In appreciation of Black History Month, Cancer Research And Biostatistics (CRAB) would like to spotlight physician Dr. May Edward Chinn, PhD. In 1926, she became the first African American woman to graduate Bellevue Hospital Medical College, now the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. She practiced medicine in Harlem for fifty years. A tireless advocate for poor patients with advanced, often previously untreated diseases, she became a staunch supporter of new methods to detect cancer in its earliest stages.
In the mid-1920s, African American physicians were not granted residencies at any hospitals, so after graduating from Bellevue Hospital Medical College and completing an internship at Harlem Hospital in 1928, Chinn opened a private practice on Edgecombe Avenue, working with other African American physicians at the Edgecombe Sanitarium for non-white patients. Her interest in the early cancer diagnosis developed during these years, as she saw many patients who were very ill with terminal diseases, often late-stage cancer.
In the early 1930s, Chinn studied cytological methods for cancer detection with George Papanicolaou, noted for his work on the Pap smear test for cervical cancer, becoming an advocate for cancer screening to detect cancer at its earliest stages. Chinn worked at the Strang Clinic New York Infirmary until her retirement in 1974. During her time there, Chinn developed methods for early detection including consideration of personal and family medical histories.
Black History Month presents a unique opportunity to dedicate time to mindfully appreciate the global impact of Black individuals and communities. Let us never forget our history and continue striving for a more just and equitable society.