Preventive Medicine for All

Rebecca (née Davis) Crumpler was raised by her aunt who cared for the sick in their community. While her aunt was not trained as a doctor, she took care of those who were sick. Her aunt became the inspiration for Rebecca’s career. Rebecca worked as a nurse before she attended the New England Female Medical College. She was the first African American woman to become a doctor.

Rebecca’s interest in a medical career was also greatly influenced by her marriage. Her husband’s son died at the age of 7 and that motivated Rebecca’s nursing career. Her husband died when she was in medical school.

Dr. Crumpler focused her medical practice on medical care for freed slaves. In her practice, she began to learn a lot about diseases that women and children were likely to have. But she also experienced intense racism and sexism. She could not get prescriptions honored. She received no support from male doctors who were disdainful of her treatment of patients who could not afford medical care.

Dr. Crumpler converted her medical notes into a book focusing on medical care for mothers and their children. Her focus was on the prevention of disease. The medical community at the time was more focused on the treatment of medical issues once they presented themselves. Again, she faced rejection by the medical community. But today we view the prevention of disease as essential to healthy living.

Hidden heroes face a number of challenges. Many of them are biased based on race and gender. Dr. Crumpler did not let her personal rejection keep her from what she believed was her life’s work. This requires great confidence and resilience.

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“Prevention is so much better than healing because it saves the labor of being sick.” – Thomas Edison

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