A fabulous movie got me thinking this afternoon about the desegregation of healthcare.

chadwick boseman at the plate

Witten and directed by Brian Helgeland, “42” captures the sheer courage, will and heroism of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the major leagues (1947), better than any screenwriter or director before.  Chadwick Boseman (playing Mr. Robinson) and Harrison Ford (playing Branch Rickey, the GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers 1943-1950), should receive Academy Award Nominations for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively.  Mr. Boseman in particular captured the intellectual, emotional and athletic prowess of Mr. Robinson, including his swing and run.  A heroic story, told with authentic dialogue and set design, beautifully acted.

harrison ford as branch rickeyThrough the 1950s, separate (and unequal) hospitaIs were operated for African-Americans. In Memphis, where I attended medical school 1981-1985, I received some of my training in the EH Crump Hospital, built and opened in 1956 for black residents of the city. By the late 1960s, blacks in all regions of the country could use the same hospitals as whites, although in some states (Alabama), access was enforced by withholding Medicare payments to the hospital (see the history of The Mobile Infirmary). It would be another 20 years before Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) were truly integrated. But in any case, healthcare facilities of the South were integrated sooner than any other region of the US (J Health Polit Policy Law 1993 Winter; 18(4):851-869).

Many county medical societies of the 1950s and 1960s behaved more like autonomous physician fraternities than inclusive professional societies.  Separate associations were created by African American physicians, such as the Atlanta Medical Association (founded 1890).  Integration of nursing staffs preceded that of physician staffs, largely due to the operational impracticality of segregating them.

jackie robinson, right oblique profile

The personal dignity and athletic accomplishments of Jackie Robinson had an important role in shifting public opinion toward the integration of our society.  While manifestations of racism persist in our society (see the Trayvon Martin case), most have thankfully been vanquished from the medical profession.   We owe a little of that to Mr. Robinson.

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