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February 2018  

WEEK 1 

L.D. BRITT, MD

Chairman and Professor of Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School

Dr. L.D. Britt was born in Suffolk, Virginia.  There were three black physicians in town – typically the only ones who treated black patients – and his family would wait all day for a few minutes of office time. He has a vivid childhood memory of his family packing both lunch and dinner before going to the doctor in Suffolk. 

He attended the University of Virginia, where he received his BA and became a member of the Raven Society and was named to the Dean’s List each of the eight semesters. He received his Baccalaureate of Arts with Distinction.  Later, after earning Harvard degrees in both medicine and public health, Britt would become the first black physician in America to have an endowed chair in surgery. He could have gone anywhere, but he wanted to come home, so he accepted a job at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he’s been trying to bridge gaps in health care for more than three decades.

In 2017, Britt received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study health care disparities in surgery patients across the country.  He will be the principal investigator of this American College of Surgeons study.

“It’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” Britt said in a phone interview. “We have to do better. I’ve seen people die because they didn’t have access to care, and that is not acceptable.”

Americans can be tolerant of differences in sizes of houses and brands of clothing, he said, but they should not tolerate disparity in three areas: clean water, education and health care.

ALICE BALL

1892-1916

Pharmaceutical Chemist

Alice Ball was born in 1892 in Seattle, Washington to Laura and James P. Ball, Jr.

She graduated with two degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1912 and pharmacy in 1914 from University of Washington In the fall of 1914, she entered the College of Hawaii (later the University of Hawaii).  On June 1, 1915, she was the first African American and the first woman to graduate with a master of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. In the 1914-1915 academic year she also became the first woman to teach chemistry at the institution.

Ball was clearly a talented research chemist, especially interested in using oil from the chaulmoogra tree as a potential cure for Hansen disease (leprosy). Although it had been used topically to treat many conditions for hundreds of years, she suspected it would be more effective if it could be injected — and she was right.  The “Ball method” continued to be the most effective method of treatment until the 1940s and as late as 1999 one medical journal indicated the “Ball Method” was still being used to treat Hansen disease patients in remote areas.

Unfortunately, Ball died in 1916 and was, therefore, unable to witness the impact her work had on the medical field. She never received the acknowledgement from the medical world for her groundbreaking work in the cure of Hansen disease. After her death the chairman of the University of Hawaii Chemistry Department received recognition. Over time, however, researchers began to learn of Ball’s crucial contribution.  In 2000, the University of Hawaii acknowledged Alice A. Ball as one of its most distinguished graduates.