Healthcare Pioneers: Dr. Leonidas Harris Berry

As Black History Month comes to a close, we conclude our series on healthcare pioneers by turning our attention to Dr. Leonidas Harris Berry. Dr. Berry’s story is one of perseverance, dedication, and a fierce commitment to making healthcare more accessible to marginalized communities.

Dr. Berry began his medical career at Chicago’s Provident Hospital, one of the few hospitals that allowed Black physicians to practice during that time. But his ambitions didn’t stop there. He joined the staff at Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital in 1946, becoming the first Black physician on staff at that facility. Despite his reputation as one of the most distinguished gastroenterologists in the world, he spent 17 years fighting for his application to be named to the attending staff at Michael Reese Hospital. But Dr. Berry refused to give up, and in 1963 at the age of 61, he was finally named to the attending staff at Michael Reese Hospital, where he held the position of senior attending physician for the rest of his career.

Dr. Berry was more than just a trailblazer for Black physicians. He was committed to bringing medical care to underprivileged communities that had none. In the 1960s, Dr. Berry, along with more than two dozen other Chicago medical professionals, organized the Flying Black Medics. This courageous group of nurses, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, paramedics, and biochemists flew to Cairo, IL to address the medical needs of its impoverished residents when they needed it the most – during the racial unrest that plagued the area during the late ’60s and early ’70s. They brought medical services and supplies to the community and set up a medical clinic in the basement of a local church.

Dr. Berry’s legacy continues today. In recognition of his pioneering contributions to gastroenterology, the Leonidas H. Berry Society for Digestive Diseases was established in 1980, ensuring that his work in the field would continue.

Dr. Berry’s story is one of struggle and resilience, but it’s also a story of hope and inspiration. We can all be inspired by Dr. Berry’s dedication to making healthcare more accessible to marginalized communities, and his refusal to give up in the face of adversity. As a healthcare network based in the Chicagoland area, Symphony is especially proud of Dr. Berry’s accomplishments, and we remain committed to continuing his work of providing quality care to underprivileged Illinois residents.

Flying Black Medics in the 1960s