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The Woman Behind the (Doctor’s) Mask

Medicine. It’s a concept we’ve known about for centuries. It began in prehistoric times with herbal treatments, religion and magic (as the sourcerers called it).

Today, there are various forms of medicine, some of which include bits and pieces of those prehistoric medicinal treatments. However, 21st century medicine has made extreme leaps and bounds with surgeries, vaccines, and medicines to treat things from the common cold, to anxiety, to cancer. And, who can we thank for this insight into medicinal healing for something as life-threatening as cancer? Dr. Jane Wright.

For those of you who have never heard of Wright, she is a woman who paved the way for implementing chemotherapy as an effective drug to cure various types of cancer. She not only paved the way for this treatment, but, also, for women, as she became the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society (Changing the Face of Medicine, 2015).

She is credited with hosting trials with her father, Dr. Louis Wright, that investigated anti-cancer chemicals. Several of those who participated in the trials went into remission. Dr. Louis Wright was “the first African American doctor appointed to a staff position at a municipal hospital” (Changing the Face of Medicine, 2015). He later went on to become New York’s first African American police surgeon and started the Cancer Research Center at Harlem Hospital (Changing the Face of Medicine, 2015).

Without these two individuals with a passion for medicine, chemotherapy may have never been implemented as a cancer treatment.

But, backing up a bit, Dr. Jane Wright was born in 1919 and raised in New York City. She graduated in 1945 with honors from New York Medical College (Changing the Face of Medicine, 2015). She originally wanted to pursue a career in art, but decided to follow in her father’s footsteps of medicine (Elliot, 2016). Wright served nine months as an assistant resident in internal medicine at Bellevue Hospital from 1945-1946 (Changing the Face of Medicine, 2015). She then completed a residency at Harlem Hospital from 1947-1948 and afterwards, became a chief resident.

While working with her father, Wright “analyzed a wide range of anti-cancer agents, explored the relationship between patient and tissue culture response, and developed new techniques for administering cancer chemotherapy. By 1967, she was the highest ranking African American woman in a United States medical institution.” (Changing the Face of Medicine, 2015).

Wright analyzed hundreds of drugs, searching for those of which had the ability to kill human tumors (Elliot, 2016).

She revolutionized how doctors approach cancer as well as how they treat it. Your aunt that survived breast cancer who underwent chemo? You can thank Jane Wright. Your best friend’s grandpa that overcame lung cancer with chemo treatments? Thank Jane Wright, too.

This incredible woman changed the game, and the statistics of likelihood of survival. Today, about 650,000 cancer patients receive chemotherapy in the U.S a year (Information for Health Care Providers, 2019). While people continue to get cancer today in our country, the death rates are declining, and all thanks to the one who spearheaded it all - Dr. Jane Wright.

Wright’s story proves the determination and intelligence of women (girl power) and is an inspiration to all women to follow their dreams and passion. What’s your passion? What have you always wanted to do but haven’t done? Whatever it may be, you could make a difference in the world, whether big or small. Maybe it’s even just making a difference for yourself. Use Dr. Jane Wright’s story to write your own, and leave the world better than you found it.


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