Opening doors for Black surgeons…Traveling exhibit visits Pitt

Out of the 877,000 physicians and surgeons in the United States in 2008, only 6.2 percent, or 54,374, were African-American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The National Library of Medicine and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture hope to change all that with their traveling exhibit, Opening Doors:  Contemporary African-American Academic Surgeons.

EXHIBIT—The University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System hosts the traveling exhibit, “Opening Doors: Contemporary African-American Academic Surgeons,” through Jan. 28, at Falk Library, 200 Scaife Hall, Oakland. The exhibit is open during regular library hours.

“In 2007, the Health Sciences Library System submitted a proposal to the National Library of Medicine to host this exhibit and, happily, our application was successful,” said Barbara Epstein, director of the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System. “We felt that bringing this exhibit to the health sciences community in Pittsburgh would stimulate interest in learning more about the achievement of these exemplary pioneers and motivate students to follow in their footsteps.”


UPMC will host the exhibit until Jan. 28, in the Falk Library of the Health Sciences in Scaife Hall.  Besides highlighting the accomplishments of pioneering physicians from days gone by, like Dr. Matilda Evans—the first African-American woman physician licensed in the state of South Carolina  and the achievements of surgeons like Dr. Sharon M. Henry, elected as the first African-American woman member of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma in 2000, the exhibit also showcases contemporary pioneers Dr. Alexa I. Canady, the first African-American woman neurosurgeon; the late Dr. Claude H. Organ Jr., the first African-American chair of the department of surgery at the predominantly White Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb.;  Dr. Rosalyn P. Scott, the first African-American woman cardiothoracic surgeon; and Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., the first African-American president of the American College of Surgeons.

To increase the number of African-American students locally, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Office of Student Affairs/Diversity Program regularly recruits on major college and university campuses as well as the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“UPMC is very desirous to increase its staff and faculty numbers of underrepresented minorities, including African-American and Hispanic physicians and surgeons. A comprehensive empirical attitudinal study among such minority staff and faculty about how to accomplish this goal was recently completed by UPMC in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh,” said Dr. Loren Roth, associate senior vice chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. “This study has recommended several approaches and strategies including increased outreach, mentoring and networking approaches whereby [we can] reach this goal along a pipeline of minority medical students, residents and faculty. Implementation of these recommendations is under way.”

According to Chenits Pettigrew Jr., Ph.D., assistant dean of student affairs and director of diversity programs for the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, African-American students, who do not have a clear-cut specialty in mind, are given opportunities to “explore options through network activities, panels, specialty nights, physician shadowing and direct clinical experience.”  The students enjoy continued access to attending physicians, once they’ve chosen their surgical specialties, through panels, networking, and one-on-one meetings, where they can interact with practicing African-American surgeons. The students also attend professional meetings where they can interact with African-American surgeons who are currently working in the students’ chosen surgical specialties.

Learning the exact number of African-American surgeons who currently work for UPMC or have worked for them in the past was not possible, according to UPMC media coordinator, Kristin Beaver.

“The percentage of African-American doctors on staff is extremely hard to nail down,” said Beaver.  “Because UPMC is so large (we have 20 hospitals and 50,000 employees), that kind of information isn’t filed or maintained in the same way for all of our hospitals, divisions and departments.”

Opening Doors:  Contemporary African-American Academic Surgeons can be viewed during regular library hours, which can be found online at

Also a career panel of African-American surgeons with connections to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is scheduled for Jan. 15, from 12-1 p.m., in Scaife Hall, Lecture Room 3. Dr. Velma Scantlebury, transplant surgeon, Christiana Care Health System, Del., will moderate. Online registration, at the following Web address:, is required for anyone who’s interested in attending.

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