History is recorded by those who have been in power; because of this, it should not be surprising that few data exist on the engagement of significant minorities in the medical field. According to Dr. Donald Wilson, writing in Lucas Patersthe Journal of the National Medical Association, the first African physician in the colonies was probably a Dutch-educated man named Lucas Santomee Peters, who practiced under special dispensation in New York in the 17th century. 

Although other non-whites offered important medical insight and advice, such as Onesimus, the slave who taught Cotton Mather about smallpox vaccination based on the methods utilized by his tribe in Africa, the existence of the first recognized black physician is not recorded until the late 18th century. James Derham, who is thought to have lived between 1762 and 1802, was born a slave in Philadelphia, but his early masters taught him the fundamentals of reading and writing. After passing through ownership of a number of physicians, Derham ultimately found himself owned by a Scottish physician, who hired him in 1783 to perform medical services. At the age of 21, Derham bought his freedom and moved to New Orleans to establish his own medical practice. His most notable medical accomplishments took place during the yellow fever epidemic around 1789-90, during which he saved more yellow fever victims than any other physician in colonial Philadelphia. During an outbreak in which thousands fell victim to the plague, Derham lost only 11 of 64 patients. After 1802, history loses track of James Derham. 

The first African American to earn a formal medical degree didn't graduate until 1837. Dr. James McCune Smith (1813-1865) was not only an outspokJames McCune Smithen abolitionist and suffragist, he was also the first African American to earn a medical degree. As American Universities would not admit non-whites, Dr. Smith attended the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Upon returning to New York City after completing his education, Smith became the first black physician to publish articles in United States medical journals. He loaned invaluable credibility to the fight against slavery in the American South, personally collaborating with John Brown, Gerrit Smith, and Frederick Douglass. 

Dr. Samuel Ford McGill (1815-1871) earned the distinction of being the first black man to graduate from an American Medical School when he earned his medical degree from Dartmouth's medical school in 1839. Upon his return to Liberia, Dr. McGill became the first African American doctor in the nation. Over the next ten years, he imparted his medical knowledge. Following the death of Governor Russwurm, who was also his brother-in-law, McGill was appointed as the acting Governor of Maryland in Liberia. He eventually became the official governor and held the position until Maryland declared its independence on June 8, 1854. Later that year, Samuel joined his brothers Urias, James, and R. S. McGill to establish a trading company known as McGill Brothers. The company quickly became one of the most successful commercial ventures in Liberia during its early years.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler faced dual obstacles in her path to a medical career: not only was she African American, but she was a woman - and either of these facts alone would have been enough to discredit her in the eyes of the white establishment of the 19th century. Nonetheless, after working for 8 years as a nurse in Massachusetts, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College in 1860. When she graduated in 1864, she was the first African American woman in the United States to earn a Medical Degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, which closed in 1873. When the Civil War ended in 1865, Dr. Crumpler moved to Richmond Virginia, to join with other physicians in caring for freed slaves who would otherwise not have had access to medical care. The environment was hostile toward black physicians, yet Dr. Crumpler continued her work in the postwar South until roughly 1880, when she returned to Boston to practice medicine there. Her 1883 book, Book of Medical Discourses, is an account of her career path and her observations of that journey.

The end of the American Civil War saw a quick and vicious embrace of segregation in the south. One of many horrifying implications of this reality was that non-whites were often denied access to even basic medical care, as the best (and sometimes the only) medical facilities were "white-only." In response to this reality, Howard University opened its medical school in 1868 Minority doctors and nursesto train black physicians, and Meharry Medical College, which began to function in 1876, followed suit. In 1869, three of the Howard Faculty members were denied membership in the American Medical Association's local branch in Washington DC. Their continual attempts through 1884 were unsucessful; finally, in 1884, an all-black medical society, the National Medical Association, was formed. 

In spite of the fact that black physicians had clearly proved their capabilities by the turn of the 20th century, the prevailing wisdom still held that non-whites were incapable of matching their white counterparts in terms of medical knowledge and capability. As of 1950, "white" medical schools had graduated less than 15 percent of black physicians, and there were fewer than 100 black specialists throughout the country. The years between 1868 and 1904 saw the establishment of 7 medical schools for black students; however, most of these did not survive even to the landmark Flexnor report of 1910. 

Perhaps more telling was the fact that overcoming previous obstacles was not an indication that future attempts to break through cultural prejudices against racial minorities in medicine would be successful. Levi Watkins, Jr., was denied admittance to the University of Alabama School of Medicine in 1966 in spite of his exceptional academic credentials from Tennessee State University and the fact that the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. The Board of Education had ruled 12 years before that requiring non-whites to attend separate schools was Levi Watkins speakingunconstitutional. As a result, Watkins completed his medical degree at Vanderbilt's School of Medicine, becoming the first African American to graduate from that medical school. 

Dr. Watkins subsequently became the first black intern at John Hopkins University Medical School, after which he studied at Harvard Medical School's Department of Physiology. He returned to John Hopkins in 1975 as the first black chief resident in heart surgery. In this capacity, he was the first surgeon to implant an automatic heart defibrillator in February 1980. Since that operation, the defibrillator has saved more than one million lives. In 2010, Dr. Watkins received the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Award for excellence in medicine. 

The history of Hispanics in medicine can be even murkier to unravel, as few statistics on the participation of Latinos in the formal medical establishment exist. California landowner and politican Mariano Vallejo's son Platon attended Columbia University's College of Medicine during the 1860s, around the sameLatino doctors time as El Pasoan Jose Samaniego. Afro-Puerto Rican Joce Celso Barbosa moved to New York at the age of 19 in the late 1800s to seek professional medical training. Unable to attend the Columbia University College of Medicine because of his skin color, Barbose attended the University of Michigan medical school and became the first Puerto Rican doctor educated in the United States. In the early 20th century, Mary Headley Trevino de Edgerton became among the first Tejanos to attend medical school in Texas when she enrolled at the University of Texas - Medical Branch in Galveston. After her graduation at the top of her class and earning the highest grade in the state medical exam in 1909, the only medical association that would permit her to practice was in Starr County. 

Due to the hostility toward Latino doctors inside the traditional medical establishment, Latino communities pooled their resources to create mutual aid societies to address the medical needs, including injuries and illnesses, that they confronted. The neglect usually demonstrated toward the health needs of the American Latino communities sharpened into hostility after the Mexican Revolution, and Mexican workers were blamed for everything from smallpox to typhus to tuberculosis to high infant mortality rates. These hostile attitudes and the resulting draconian social policies occasionally boiled over into riots - a condition which persisted into World War I. The Shepherd-Towner Act, passed after the 19th amendment, provided support for the building of health care facilities for mothers and infants, and was also used to train and certify Mexican American midwives. The onset of World War II, and postwar rebuilding, changed public education and offered new opportunities in science and medicine. Latinos took advantage of falling racial boundaries to pursue careers in medicine. 

Dr. Hector Perez Garcia lived out the reality of the changing social expectations following World War II. Although the seven Garcia children grew up in South
Texas in segregated "Mexican Schools," six of the seven would go on to earn degrees in the medical field. Hector Garcia graduated cum laude from the University of Texas Medical Branch - Galveston in 1940, but was unable to obtain employment because he was "Mexican." After serving a residency in Omaha, Nebraska, he volunteered for the Army Medical Corps during World War II. 
Hector GarciaIn spite of his service during the war, upon returning to South Texas at its conclusion, Dr. Garcia could only find employment at the Veteran's Administration hospital. In his position at the VA hospital, he objected to unequal treatment of Mexican and white patients, subsequently founding the American GI Forum to advance the civil rights of Hispanics, who were suffering appalling discrimination at the hands of the armed services and the medical community. 

Racial and ethnic minorities have made tremendous strides toward equality in the medical professions; however, current data show that the playing field is far from equal, and the numbers of minorities working as physicians and faculty at medical schools is far from representative. According to the American Medical Student Association in 2015, although racial and ethnic minorities comprise 26% of the total population of the United States, only roughly 6% of practicing physicians are Latino, African American and Native American. Moreover, minorities account for only 4% of U.S. medical school faculty members, and approximately 20% of these are concentrated at 6 schools - Howard University, Meharry Medical College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and 3 Puerto Rican Medical schools. 

Given that diversity among medical faculty is essential if the best ideas, research endeavors and innovations are to be achieved, it is imperative that the medical schools of today build on the successes of the trailblazers of the past, and embrace policies and cultures which will lead to representative inclusion in the future.
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Carroll, Patrick James. Felix Longoria's Wake Bereavement, Racism, and the Rise of Mexican American Activism. Austin: U of Texas, 2003. Print.
Kells, Michelle Hall. Héctor P. García: Everyday Rhetoric and Mexican American Civil Rights. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2006. Print.

"Changing the Face of Medicine | Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 26 May 2015. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_73.html.

United States. National Park Service. "American Science, American Medicine, and American Latinos." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. 26 May 2015. Site: http://www.nps.gov/history/heritageinitiatives/latino/latinothemestudy/sciencemedicine.htm

Wilson, Donald. "Minorities and the Medical Profession: A Historical Perspective and Analysis of Current and Future Trends." Journal of the National Medical Association 78.3 (1986). Print.