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The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Office of the University of Maryland Medical System recently shared profiles of African American Health Pioneers in Maryland as part of Black History Month.

Among the featured African American healthcare leaders who significantly impacted the Maryland community were Donald E. Wilson and Elijah B. Saunders.

Donald E. Wilson was the first African American dean of a predominantly white college or university medical school in the U.S. when he became the dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1991. He introduced an inclusive and diverse hiring system, changed teaching methods, and grew the prestige of the medical school.

Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1954 and graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1962. He was the youngest to achieve full professor status at the University of Illinois Medical School. He specialized in gastroenterology and was a clinical chief at the University of Illinois and SUNY Downstate before joining UMSOM.

Elijah B. Saunders was an internationally renowned expert on treating and providing education about hypertension in African Americans. He graduated from Morgan State University in 1956 and received his medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1960.

Saunders became the first Black cardiologist in Maryland when he completed his fellowship in 1965 and played an integral role in abolishing segregated hospital wards at what was then University Hospital (now the University of Maryland Medical Center).

He was a founding member and past president of the Association of Black Cardiologists and the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks. His research indicated that some blood pressure medications are more effective than others for African Americans.

Because of his groundbreaking work, drug companies now require that African Americans be included in their studies, especially those involving cardiovascular disease. He published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and eight books.

Both Wilson and Saunders devoted their careers to exploring new treatment options, developing innovative programs to reach patients, and educating at-risk members of the population about the importance of cardiovascular health.

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