BlackFacts Details

Notable Early African-American Physcians

James Derham never received a medical degree, but he is considered the first African-American physician in the United States.

Born in Philadelphia in 1762, Derham was taught to read and worked with some doctors. By 1783, Derham was still enslaved, but he was working in New Orleans with a Scottish physicians who allowed him to perform various medical procedures. Soon after, Derham purchased his freedom and established his medical office in New Orleans.

Derham gained popularity after he successfully treated diphtheria patients and even published articles on the subject. He also worked to end the Yellow Fever epidemic losing only 11 out of 64 of his patients.

 James McCune Smith was the first African-American to earn a medical degree. In 1837, Smith earned a medical degree from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. 

When he returned to the United States, Smith said, I have striven to obtain education, at every sacrifice and every hazard, and to apply such education to the good of our common country.”

For the next 25 years, Smith worked to fulfill his words. With a medical practice in lower Manhattan,  Smith  specialized in general surgery and medicine, providing treatment to African-American as well as white patients. In addition to his medical practice, Smith was the first  African-American to manage a pharmacy in the United States.

In addition to his work as a physician, Smith was an abolitionist who worked with Frederick Douglass. In 1853, Smith and Douglass established the National Council of Negro People. 

David Jones Peck was the first African-American to graduate from a medical school in the United States.

Peck studied under Dr. Joseph P. Gaszzam, an abolitionist and physician in Pittsburgh from 1844 to 1846. In 1846, Peck enrolled in Rush Medical College in Chicago. One year later, Peck graduated and worked with abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Peck’s accomplishment as the first African-American graduate from medical school was used as propogranda to argue