Celebrating African American Innovators in Cardiology

Published on in CHOP News

For years, African American cardiologists have broken through barriers and confronted stereotypes, while making critical contributions to the medical field. In celebration of Black History Month, we’re highlighting a few of these incredible innovators and the impact they’ve made on the lives — and health — of millions.

John Beauregard Johnson, MD, FACC

(1908-1972)

Dr. John Beauregard Johnson was the first director of the Division of Cardiology at Howard University, where he led a distinguished career in both teaching and research. He was also the first African American physician to be elected as a fellow to the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Johnson was a trailblazer in cardiac angiography and cardiac catheterization, and one of the first cardiologists to call attention to disparate effects of hypertension among African Americans.

Richard Allen Williams, MD, FACC

Dr. Richard Allen Williams was the first African American from Delaware to join Harvard University. In 1974, he founded the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) and served as president for the next ten years. ABC promotes the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease in minorities and promotes health equity through advocacy and education. Dr. Williams also launched the Minority Health Institute, which aims to advance the health and wellness of communities of color.

Josephine Isabel-Jones, MD, FACC

At 8 years old, Dr. Josephine Isabel-Jones knew she wanted to be a pediatrician — an unheard-of dream during the 1940s in the segregated South. Dr. Isabel-Jones was one of only four women to graduate from Meharry Medical College, and the first African American resident at the University of Tennessee, ultimately becoming the first African American woman board-certified in pediatric cardiology in the United States. Throughout her long career, Dr. Isabel-Jones has remained an advocate for civil rights and has a long-standing interest in medical mission work.

Vivien Theodore Thomas

(1910-1985)

Though Vivien Theodore Thomas was born the grandson of a slave in Louisiana and had no formal education beyond high school, he became a surgical technician who helped develop a life-saving surgical technique to correct “blue baby syndrome,” now known as tetralogy of Fallot. Thomas served as lab supervisor at John Hopkins University for 35 years and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1976. A true innovator, Thomas went on to teach surgical techniques to some of the country’s most prominent surgeons.  

Elizabeth Odilile Ofili, MD, MPH, FACC

Dr. Elizabeth Ofili is an internationally recognized clinician scientist, whose research and clinical practice has focused on cardiovascular disparities and women’s health. She is the first female president of the Association of Black Cardiologists and was instrumental in the African American Heart Failure Trial, which resulted in changed guidelines for treating heart failure in African American patients. Today, Dr. Ofili is a practicing cardiologist, professor of medicine, and director and senior dean of the Clinical Research Center at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine.

Charles Curry, MD, FACC

Dr. Charles Curry is nationally recognized for his expertise on cardiovascular disease and hypertension. He was the first African American to receive post-graduate training in medicine and cardiology at Duke University, the first board-certified cardiologist in the United States and the first African American to serve on the board of trustees for the American College of Cardiology. As Howard University’s longest sitting chief of cardiovascular medicine, Dr. Curry has trained more African Americans to become cardiologists than anyone else in the world.


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