Course Unit | Session 4: Overcoming barriers to careers in the health professions for black nurses, physicians and dentists

Session 4: Overcoming barriers to careers in the health professions for black nurses, physicians and dentists


Black Americans faced many barriers to their pursuit of careers as health professionals, including poorer primary and secondary educational systems, and lack of family financial resources to help pay for college and health professions tuition. As all of the health professions became more professionalized with admissions criteria and accreditation standards for training schools, and regulations for licensure to practice, Black who sought careers in these fields and Black health professionals already in practice often faced additional obstacles. Some of the early efforts of Black leaders were directed at removing these barriers, and their successes opened the doors for more people of color to practice as nurses, physicians and dentists. Black health professionals also faced discrimination when they sought membership to professional societies, at local, regional and national levels. Motivated often by the desire to create opportunities for the advancement of Black health professionals, and mitigate the impact of discrimination, Black physicians, nurses and dentists established professional societies for health professionals of color. Some of these societies represented the interests of physicians, dentists and pharmacists.  Over time, these different professional groups established national organizations to represent a single discipline.


  1. Describe the impact of poor primary and secondary public education on the growth and development of the black nursing, medical and dental professions
  2. Describe the development of licensing laws for physicians, nurses and dentists and their potential use to restrict practice and employment to white health professionals
  3. Discuss the establishment of professional organizations designed to represent black nurses, doctors, dentists, and pharmacists and their early efforts to improve career opportunities and professional advancement
  4. Discuss the barriers to residency and specialty training for black doctors and dentists, and to continuing education for black nurses, doctors and dentists