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The Power of Names

Rosemary Agwuncha, a student in the inaugural class of the UH College of Medicine, wholeheartedly supported the nomination for Crumpler LC.Rosemary Agwuncha, a student in the inaugural class of the UH College of Medicine,
wholeheartedly supported the nomination for "Crumpler LC".

UH College of Medicine Inaugural Class Names Learning Communities in Honor of Inspiring Historic Physicians

By Rashda Khan

October 30, 2020

There is a Yoruba saying, “Oruko rere san ju Wura ati Fadaka,” which means “A good name is more precious than gold and silver.”

Students in the inaugural class of the University of Houston College of Medicine know the importance of names.

When selecting names for their two Learning Communities (LC), the students thought hard and chose well. The students, divided into groups of 15, will belong to the two LCs for the duration of their medical education at the college. The groups provide the students with academic, social and peer support.

The Class of 2024 chose to recognize historical physicians who made notable contributions to their communities – Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Dr. Thelma Patten Law.

“In the past I have heard of learning communities named after school colors or local landmarks,” said Jalyce Taylor, one of the students who initially suggested the LCs be named after historical physicians. “I felt the naming of our learning communities could provide an additional opportunity to extend our social mission and honor physicians who have lived out the mission we are furthering.”

The names are also a reminder of the importance of highlighting underrepresented role models and acknowledging their contributions as the students pursue their own health care goals.

“There are so many ‘Hidden Figures’ in medicine and science who are often forgotten as generations pass,” said Taylor, a native Houstonian who wants to address the health disparities she’s seen firsthand. “We had the opportunity to honor these two women physicians and invoke their legacy in our learning experience.”

She and others reached out to the faculty mentors of the two LCs with the idea, which led to further discussion. One student set up a GroupMe – a mobile group chat app – for the students to finalize their ideas and vote.

One LC, mentored by Dr. Joel Blumberg, is now the Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Learning Community or Crumpler LC.

Crumpler was the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. In 1864, she graduated from New England Female Medical College – the first U.S. school to train women in the medical field – and began practicing in Boston.

After the Civil War, Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, and worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and other groups to care for freed slaves. She later returned to Boston and continued to practice medicine, treating patients regardless of their ability to pay.

In 1883, she published “A Book of Medical Discourses,” which shared advice on treating illnesses in infants, children and women of childbearing age.

Diamondneshay Ward suggested Crumpler and her classmate, Rosemary Agwuncha, wholeheartedly supported the nomination.

“Dr. Crumpler overcame all the overwhelming odds to become a trailblazer as the first Black woman physician, as well as the only female physician author in the 19th century,” Agwuncha wrote in an email. “She shared all of her gifts so graciously with the world and remained true to who she was, even in the midst of all she had endured. She is an incredibly resilient, intelligent, and gifted role model for us all.”

The second LC, mentored by Dr. Kristin Kassaw, is now the Dr. Thelma Patten Law Learning Community or Patten Law LC.

Patten Law was one of the first African American female physicians in Texas and the first in Houston. She attended Howard University and received her medical license in 1923. After graduation, she interned at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In 1924, she began practicing obstetrics and gynecology in Houston. She was an active member of the Lone Star State Medical Association and served as the group’s first woman president in 1940. She later became the first African American female physician admitted to the Harris County Medical Society.

Ashlynn Mills suggested Patten Laws’s name.

“Dr. Thelma Patten Law was selected from among countless notable physicians who go unrecognized because of similarities I noticed in her journey and many of ours,” Mills said. “[Her] service to Houston’s poor Black population – especially in the Third Ward – resonated strongly with us. We knew she was the role model our learning community should honor.”

Dr. Kathryn Horn, associate dean of Student Affairs, Admissions and Outreach at the College of Medicine, is proud of the students for taking ownership of their LCs and their thoughtful choices.

“Both women were compassionate physicians and dedicated to their community, which is consistent with our UH College of Medicine mission,” Horn said. “It is my hope, our students will be inspired by the memory of these two trailblazers and will follow in their footsteps.”