5 Prominent Black HCPs That Impacted Canadian Healthcare
“Black History Month is about honouring the enormous contributions that Black people have made, and continue to make, in all sectors of society. It is about celebrating resilience, innovation, and determination to work towards a more inclusive and diverse Canada – a Canada in which everyone has every opportunity to flourish” (Government of Canada, 2021).
This month we celebrate Black Canadians who have shaped our country’s medical system and overall patient outcomes.
During World War 1, Black women were denied the chance to participate in Canada’s war efforts. This motivated them to form the Black Cross Nurses (modelled on the Red Cross) to aid wounded soldiers and work in the Black community. This initiative is just one of many heroic healthcare contributions made by Black Canadians.
However, Black History Month is also a time for reflection. We are reminded that we still have a lot of work to do in pursuit of a just and equitable society for all.
To honour Black History Month this February, we have highlighted five prominent Black healthcare professionals who had an impact on Canadian healthcare from the 1800s to present day. This feature only highlights some of the many incredible and deserving Black Canadians in this field. Read on to discover their accomplishments and resources from the Black Physicians of Canada that help support Black physicians and physicians-in-training.
Anderson Ruffin Abbott, MD (1837 – 1913)
We would be shocked if you hadn’t heard about Dr. Abbott, the first Canadian-born Black doctor. He graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine in 1861 and received a licence to practise from the Medical Board of Upper Canada.
After receiving his licence, Dr. Abbott joined the American Civil War effort and served in a segregated regiment, the Coloured Troops. He acted as a civilian surgeon in several Washington, DC, hospitals that served Union forces, and even cared for dying President Abraham Lincoln before returning to Canada where he spent his later years writing about Black history.
Alexander Thomas Augusta, MD (1825 – 1890)
After being denied entrance to American medical schools because of the colour of his skin, Dr. Augusta chose to attend Trinity Medical College in the early 1850s, becoming the first black medical student in Canada West.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Medicine degree in 1860, Augusta worked as a physician in Toronto, where he became a leader in the Black community. He offered medical care to the poor, founded a literacy society that donated books and school supplies to Black children and was active in antislavery circles in Canada and the United States.
An aspiring nurse, Bernice Redmon, was denied entry into Canadian nursing programs because Black women were not permitted to attend Canadian nursing schools. Redmon chose to complete her nursing diploma in the U.S. in 1945, and then came back to Canada to work following her degree.
She got a job at the Nova Scotia Department of Health, where she was recognized as the first Black nurse to practise in public health and later became the first Black woman to be appointed to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada.
Fun fact: Canadian nursing programs first allowed Black students to enroll in the late 1940s!
Chika Stacy Oriuwa, MD
Dr. Oriuwa graduated from the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine in 2020 where she was the first Black woman to be named the sole valedictorian of her class and is currently continuing her training in psychiatry.
She was an ambassador and public face of the University of Toronto’s Black Student Application Program (BSAP), an optional application process that requires the same standards and includes an interview process conducted by members of the Black community, faculty, and students. She also co-founded the Black Interprofessional Students’ Association (BIPSA) to network students across graduate programs.
Fun fact: Famous toy manufacturer, Mattel, recognized Dr. Oriuwa for her advocacy against systemic racism in health care by including her in a special collection of Barbie Dolls honouring health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.
Onye Nnorom, MD
Aside from being a Family Doctor and a Public Health & Preventive
Medicine specialist, Dr. Nnorom is a leading voice pushing Canada’s medical system to recognize, study and address anti-Black racism. She is also the Black Health Theme Lead for the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. As the Black Health Theme Lead, Dr. Nnorom is tasked with developing educational content for teaching medical students about Black Canadian health, and inequities due to systemic racism.
To top it all off, she is the President of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario and hosts the Race, Health & Happiness podcast that discusses how to stay well in a “racialized world.”
Black Physician & Physicians-In-Training Resources
The Black Physicians of Canada has outlined a number of resources that aid in their mission to build a community of Black physicians and physicians-in-training as well as creating social networks and learning together. They focus on providing mentorship for Black physicians and physicians in training, as well as advocacy, representation, guidance, support, encouragement, resources and advice.