Little Known Black History Fact: Dr. Helen Nash

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

    As a child, Dr. Nash held an interest in science. She was led by her father’s footsteps; he was a general practitioner in the Atlanta, Ga. area. Despite her interest, her father was against her decision to attend medical school. She was encouraged by her mother, who was a social worker, to be sure she was treated fairly in school. Dr. Helen Nash graduated from Meharry Medical School in 1945.

    She began her training like many black physicians of the time, at historic Homer G. Phillips hospital in St. Louis, Mo.

    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. The change drastically reduced the rate of infections and premature mortality rates. Her other missions included the approval of air conditioning at the facility. She would work 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 was an advocate of child abuse prevention services, and was instrumental in the policy changes that led to physicians reporting mistreatment of children by parents or caretakers. In another instance, she once again worked with the mayor to increase the budget for rat eradication after seeing many patients with rat bites.

    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, drastically decreased. 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 white 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 white 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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    6 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Dr. Helen Nash

    1. Pingback: First African-American Pediatrician | Future Pediatrician MIM

    2. my best friend’s step-sister makes $62/hr on the laptop. She has been laid off for nine months but last month her check was $17001 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site… http://xurl.es/8s8ka

    3. I’m so glad to see an article about her! I was a patient of her son’s (or one of her male family members) when I was a little girl (I am now 29). I wish they would have mentioned the legacy her family has kept up in the St. Louis area. I know there are members that still practice in the city.

    4. VERY INFORMATIVE SITE!!! THANKS FOR EDUCATING US ABOUT OUR “DIDN’T KNOW” BLACK HISTORIANS. R.I.P. DR. HELEN NASH.

    5. Dr. Helen Nash was the best of the best. When my niece was born she was born with a dislocated hip. That was the first time I saw a black child or any child for that matter is a cloth body cast. This cast was to be worn day and night. My niece has four children because of Dr. Nash. Had she not wore that cast she wouldn’t be able to carry children. It was also Dr. Helen Nash who started children to were leg braces if they were bowlegged to straighted there posture. I could go on about Dr. Nash. She was a pillar in our community.

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