Healthcare Pioneers: Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston

This Black History Month, we continue our tradition of recognizing the healthcare pioneers who truly embody the best attributes of America; individuals that persevered despite innumerable challenges and become an inspiration to generations of young Americans. In the first entry of this year’s series, we honor the legacy of Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston.

When Dr. Gaston was young, her mother suddenly fainted in their living room. Impoverished and uninsured without access to quality healthcare, this frightening episode went undiagnosed and was a mystery until later revealed to be a symptom of a cervical cancer diagnosis that would shape the future of Dr. Gaston’s life & career. At that moment, Dr. Gaston knew what she had to do. She would become a physician and help end the inequalities in healthcare that caused her mother’s needless suffering.

Despite facing poverty and prejudice as a young student, Dr. Gaston overcame the odds and dedicated her career to providing medical care for poor and minority families. She went on to become the first African American woman to direct a public health service bureau, controlling a $5 billion budget and serving over 12 million patients.

In 1986, Dr. Gaston published a groundbreaking study on sickle cell disease which led Congress to pass a nationwide screening program that saved countless lives and went on to become central US healthcare policy. By the time she retired in 2001, the prophylactic penicillin program she championed became common practice in Africa, saving innumerable lives and underscoring the worldwide impact of her work.

Her achievements have been recognized with many awards and honors – including the National Medical Association’s most prestigious award, the NMA Scroll of Merit. Dr. Gaston’s achievements are celebrated on Marilyn Hughes Gaston Day in Ohio, where the University of Cincinnati offers scholarships bearing her name to two underprivileged minority students each year.

Dr. Gaston is truly a pioneer. She overcame all the odds to become one of the country’s most decorated & influential physicians, a story that should inspire us all to continue doing our part to fight racial injustice in all its forms.

In the spirit of Dr. Gaston, Symphony renews its commitment to celebrating diversity and doing our part to make racial equity & justice a reality.

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”

Booker T. Washington