#HealthHistory Celebrating revolutionary individuals who made historical advancements in medicine

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston was a medical trailblazer who broke barriers and shattered stereotypes within the medical community. She conducted research, created treatments, and provided medical leadership in pediatric medicine but, most importantly in the world of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD).

Her goal in becoming a medical doctor was to bring affordable healthcare to impoverished families and increase access to health care and insurance. Her medical dream was inspired after her mother was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer and was unable to receive treatment because of her family’s lack of health insurance.

While completing her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital she found her interest in researching Sickle Cell Disease when an infant patient of hers was admitted into the emergency room. After the infant was diagnosed with Sickle Cell under her care she became committed to learning all she could by working with the National Institutes for Health.

Her consistent efforts in this research field led to success when she discovered a revolutionary procedure in 1986 that would change the lives of infants who suffer from the disease. Dr. Gaston found that children need to be screened to see if they have this disease during their early infant years. This helps the patient as they can be diagnosed sooner and can start prophylactic therapy. Her findings resulted in legislation by Congress for early SCD screenings, so treatment can begin immediately. After being a leading researcher for SCD she became deputy branch chief of the Sickle Cell Disease Branch at the National Institute of Health.

In 1990, Gaston became the first black female physician to be appointed director of the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bureau of Primary Health Care. She was also the second black woman to serve as assistant surgeon general as well as receive the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. Dr. Gaston has been honored with every award that the Public Health Service gives out because of her work in research, treatment, and advocacy within the medical community.