Dr. Venessa Northington Gamble is a physician, scholar, and activist. Born in 1953 and grew up in West Philadelphia with single mother, sister and watchful eye of her grandmother, who believed in her potential for medicine. Young Vanessa’s exposure to Mercy-Douglas Hospital for African Americans, where she had seen doctors and visited relatives inspired her desire to become a doctor. During formative years, she received financial aid to attend the Philadelphia High School for Girls (a public university-preparatory magnet high school) and graduated summa cum laude in 1970. Her choices were wide ranging including Harvard yet she chose undergraduate work in medical sociology and human biology at Hampshire College at Amherst Massachusetts. Her thesis on the Tuskegee experiment with syphilis in African American Men, eventually led her to chair the commission on obtaining an apology from the US Government, who at the time was led by President Bill Clinton (1997). She sought her doctor of medicine degree at University of Pennsylvania (1983) and in (1987) a PH.D in the history and sociology of science. She established her doctor of medicine degree through residency in family medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Her educational accomplishments established her career as an expert. In 1995, she published an inspired book from her childhood experience living near predominantly black Mercy-Douglas Hospital in her west Philly community. ‘Making a Place for Ourselves, The Black Hospital Movement, 1920-1945’ By 1997 she chaired the commission, about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment injustices on African American men, which led to an apology from the USA Government. Considering her initial reluctance to write a book about Virginia M Alexander, when asked, according to filmed talks on youtube, Dr. Gamble delved into research and article writing about her predecessors, which has the established her legacy. This work involves the following:
‘An examination of the lives and careers of physician–activists Dorothy Boulding Ferebee (1898–1972) and Virginia M. Alexander (1899–1949) demonstrates how Black physicians in the first half of the 20th century used public health to improve the health of Black Americans and provides insights into the experiences of Black women physicians. I discuss their professional and personal backgrounds and analyze their divergent strategies to address health inequities. Ferebee used her leadership in Black women’s organizations to develop public health programs and become a national advocate for Black health. Alexander, a Quaker, used her religious connections to urge Whites to combat racism in medicine. She also conducted public health research and connected it to health activism. Both were passionate advocates of health equity long before it gained prominence as a major public health issue. An analysis of their work illuminates past efforts to improve the health of Black Americans.’ Learn more…
Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble scholarly pursuits have attracted many university invitations to become part of higher learning programming impacting institutional depth and research on race and medicine. Her influence reaches from teaching at Harvard School of Public Health to developing ‘first courses in the country to explore the history of race and American medicine and public health’ at the University of Wisconsin, where she was ‘founder and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity’. While there are other notable platforms, Dr. Gamble is a pioneer as University ‘Professor of Medical Humanities and Professor of Health Policy and American Studies at the George Washington University. She is the first woman and African American to hold this prestigious, endowed faculty position.’
Her capturing the lives of two women medical doctors and their trials and tribulations highlights the patterns of discrimination across the black experience that impact the health and well being of African Americans people. I learned about Dr. Gamble from commentary on race and healthcare when listening to MSNBC. When we look to those with knowledge and expertise reaching for understanding on racial treatment in our healthcare system, especially in a Coronavirus environment, Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble is the one person I trust to represent a sympathetic view of our condition for potential solutions. Thank you for a dedicated career in medicine, scholarly work, and activism to inform us on our story and achievements.
Art and Article by Lillian L. Thompson of Lillianonline, LLC