Prominent Black HCPs That Shaped 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).
This February, 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 three prominent Black healthcare professionals who had an impact on Canadian healthcare. 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 license to practice from the Medical Board of Upper Canada.
After receiving his license, 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 practice 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!
Black Physician & Physicians-In-Training Resources
The Black Physicians of Canada has outlined several resources that aid in their mission to build a community of Black physicians and physicians-in-training and create social networks and learning together. They focus on mentorship for Black physicians and physicians in training, advocacy, representation, guidance, support, encouragement, resources and advice.