Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons is a celebration of the contributions of African-American academic surgeons. It tells the stories of four pioneering African-American surgeons and educators, like those at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who exemplify excellence in their fields and believe in continuing the journey of excellence through the education and mentoring of young African Americans pursuing medical careers.
The exhibition will open simultaneously at the National Library of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore. It will run from Feb. 1 through May 31, 2007. A Web version of the exhibition will also be available at the beginning of February.
The four pioneers are Alexa I. Canady, the first African-American woman pediatric neurosurgeon; Leffall D. LaSalle, Jr., a cancer surgeon and the first African-American president of the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society; Claude H. Organ Jr., a general surgeon and the first African American to chair a department of surgery at a predominantly white medical school; and Rosalyn P. Scott, the first African-American woman cardiothoracic surgeon.
The exhibit also features other academic surgeons from around the country who follow in the tradition of sharing their knowledge and passing the torch to younger surgeons. Among them are the following Hopkins physician educators:
• Malcolm Brock, M.D., a surgeon specializing in thoracic cancers, is studying new biomarkers to detect lung and esophageal cancers and predict their response to therapy. An associate professor of surgery and oncology and member of Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center, Brock is using cancer’s molecular code to reveal signatures of the disease not detected through a microscope. In a process called methylation, DNA letters are tagged with small methyl groups that may interfere with protein production. Abnormal levels of methylation are linked to many cancers and are found in DNA that leaks out from tumors and areas of cancer spread. According to Brock, methylation patterns could predict the behavior of lung and esophageal cancers and flag those most likely to recur. In surgery, this knowledge helps him determine if he has removed the entire tumor. Brock, who studied and trained at Hopkins, also is exploring the rising incidence of lung cancer in HIV patients and whether their tumors have unique profiles. Born in Bermuda, Brock is a Rhodes Scholar. He has received several National Institutes of Health research awards and has been honored by the Thoracic Surgery Foundation for research excellence.
• Benjamin S. Carson Sr., M.D., is director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, a position he has held since 1984. Carson was the first African American to achieve this post at Hopkins, and he was the youngest person to ever hold this position. He also holds appointments in the departments of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His clinical and research interests include congenital spinal deformities, brain tumors, craniofacial reconstruction and achondroplasia (human dwarfism). He is renowned for his expertise in performing cerebral hemispherectomy surgery, a procedure in which half the brain is removed to help control intractable seizures. Carson has participated in the surgical separation of five sets of craniopagus conjoined twins (twins joined at the head), including the separation of adult conjoined twins Laleh and Ladan Bijani in 2003.
• Edward E. Cornwell III, M.D., is a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and chief of adult trauma surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Cornwell’s pioneering research in the care of critically ill and injured patients has changed the way some trauma centers treat patients with gunshot wounds. His experience and research in this field have led him to become one of medicine’s preeminent lecturers on trauma care and violence prevention, especially in regard to youth violence. Through his outreach project, “Hype vs. Reality,” he strives to educate our nation’s youth about the false images and messages the media presents in glamorizing a culture of violence. Cornwell, who recently served as president of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons, has received numerous awards and citations for his research and teaching in trauma and critical care, as well as for his efforts in education, outreach and violence prevention.
• Claudia Thomas, M.D., who completed her orthopedic residency at Yale in 1980, became the first African-American female orthopedic surgeon in the country. After completing a fellowship at the Shock Trauma Unit of the University of Maryland, Thomas was named an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Hopkins. She trained orthopeedic residents at the Baltimore City Hospitals for a number of years. In 1985, she moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where she worked in a government hospital and developed a private practice. After taking time off for personal medical reasons, she returned to Hopkins as an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. In 2004, she joined two of her former mentees in a private practice in central Florida, a situation that she describes as the best professional years of her life.
• Levi Watkins, M.D., associate dean for postdoctoral programs and professor of cardiac surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Watkins was the first African American to achieve these posts at Hopkins. While growing up in Alabama, Watkins was exposed to widespread prejudice and to the early civil rights movement, both of which would have lasting effects. He became the first black student admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical School in Tennessee and came to Hopkins for his surgical residency in 1970. Four years after he joined the admissions committee of the medical school in 1979, minority representation increased 400 percent. His interest in worldwide human rights led him to initiate the annual Martin Luther King commemoration at Hopkins in 1982, a tradition that continues to this day.
Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons is a collaborative effort between the National Library of Medicine and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore. The National Library of Medicine is the largest medical library in the world and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum is the largest African American museum on the east coast and the second largest in the United States. The exhibition is not intended to be an encyclopedic look at African-American academic surgeons, but is intended to provide only a glimpse into the contributions that African-American academic surgeons have made to medicine and medical education. The exhibition is intended to bring these stories to light and inspire others to pursue careers in academic surgery. A traveling version of the exhibition will be available beginning this summer.
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Media Contact: Kim Hoppe