First African-American Pediatrician

Dr Helen Nash First Black Female Pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

Dr. Helen NashDr. Helen Nash, a Meharry Medical School graduate and Spelman College alumna, became the first black pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1949.

In her childhood days, Dr. Nash became interested in science. Nash followed her dads lead; as he was a general practitioner in the ATL. Her father was against her interest to go to medical school, nevertheless, her mother beckoned her on to follow her dreams and desires. Dr. Nash graduated from Meharry Medical School in 1945.

She began her training  at historic Homer G. Phillips hospital in St. Louis, Mo. It was what many other black physicians did also.

At Homer G. Phillips, Dr. Nash immediately lobbied to the all-male hospital board to increase the number of hand washing stations at the hospital and provide new incubators for the newborns. This change strictly reduced the rate of infections and premature death rates at the hospital. She also made sure the hospital stayed cool, especially during hot summers. No, she wasn’t into heating and air conditioning, but she lobbied for these to be done. She worked with the city mayor to decrease the amount of car batteries leaking lead in the local dumpster to improve air and life quality in the community.

Dr. Nash advocated for child abuse prevention services, and was very vocal in the policy changes that led to physicians reporting mistreatment of children by parents or caretakers.

Her work led to a new job at St. Louis Children’s hospital. She was the first black female pediatrician. Dr. Nash quickly changed the nursery policy to separate newborns rather than allowing them to sleep in groups. The rates of infection, once again, decreased sharply. Her distinguished performance led to an invitation to join the staff at the Washington University School of Medicine. She was the first black woman to receive this honor.

As the first black pediatrician in a european male-dominated practice, Dr. Nash would see the discrimination against her on the patient charts, written by other doctors. When she admitted her first patient to Children’s Hospital, who was a little girl with typhoid, she found a note on the girl’s chart from a doctor that read, “too bad [Dr. Nash] started treating the patient, because now we’d never know what she had.” The comment was a deliberate accusation that Dr. Nash was improperly diagnosing her patients.

Despite the few pitfalls of racism, Dr. Nash was a well-respected physician in her community.

Dr. Helen Nash passed away in October 2012 at 91 years old



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2 Responses to First African-American Pediatrician

  1. really cool. i followed you. 🙂

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