INDIANAPOLIS – Black Hoosiers have excelled in every field including medicine. They did this especially during periods when black Americans were not allowed to seek care in most hospitals.
“Health is wealth” is the saying, but it is difficult to be healthy when your doctor is not only miles away, but states away too. That was the reality in America until the mid-20th century – and everything is race related.
“Oh yes there is a lot of racism in medicine,” replied Dr. Earle Robinson Jr. when asked about the subject in the area where he has been advancing for over 40 years.
In the early 1900s there were about 100 black hospitals, the only places black patients could go to. Of these institutions, half a dozen had residency programs, often the only ones to allow black doctors who, despite their academic qualifications, were not admitted to white residency programs.
“As in 1937, there were only 18 black specialists in the whole country. There were 18,000 white specialists – that’ll tell you the difference, ”explained the retired obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN), who has also devoted his life to researching the racial differences between medical students and doctors.
Dr. Robinson Junior became a specialist in one of the few black residency programs in the country – Homer G. Phillips Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Here was his father, Dr. Earle Robinson Sr., one of the hospital’s first 27 medical interns.
“One of the red caps – you know the man who puts the bag on the train – said: ‘Where did you dye people? ‘They said,’ We’re going to Kansas City. We just graduated; We are doctors! ‘He (the red cap) said,’ Well, you know, they just built a colored hospital here and I don’t think they don’t have doctors there, ‘said his son.
And the rest is history! Two years later, a job advertisement from an Evansville doctor brought the Robinson family to Indiana. It was kind of a reunion as Dr. Robinson Sr. lived in Atlantic City where he met his wife, a teacher. The elderly doctor worked as a bellhop in the hotels there to cover the tuition fees. After his admission to his medical internship in St. Louis, he left the family to attend to his studies. Indiana would bring everyone under one roof.
“Wasn’t a GPS; He had to walk past the sun and stars so that’s what my dad did, ”said Robinson Jr.
And that brings some unique stops in Dr. Robinson Jr.’s own story.
“Well, I’m an interesting person,” he jokes!
If you don’t believe the 88-year-old, all you have to do is spend a few minutes with him and he will remember his memories.
“Next we fought in the club and I’m wearing a cashmere sweater. He packed my sweater – I’m not going to let him rip my cashmere sweater, ”he recalled, describing a bar fight in Bloomington after defending a black classmate he’d just met.
This story ends with the jump of NFL legend DJ Dozier and NBA and IU star Wally Choice.
Medical achievements are also spread over these 8 decades. Dr. Robinson Jr. is the first Indiana doctor to perform a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which offers a shorter recovery time and a lower risk of infection. It is gallbladder removal that is now cutting edge medicine – as each specialty uses the technique to maximize a patient’s surgery recovery.
The black doctor introduced this minimally invasive operation in Hoosier State by 1990, after being one of only 40 American doctors to learn the technique from German inventors.
“The general surgeon would do the operation, but I would be the scissors,” he said. I knew all the instruments; I knew how they worked. “
The second generation doctor says that even then, colleagues often dismissed his leadership and expertise.
Dr. Robinson Jr. graduated from Indiana University Medical School in the 1950s when segregation ended. He went to Homer G. Phillips Hospital for his residency and internship, where he also had his father’s story behind him. Returning to Indiana for his first job, Robinson Jr. said again that his peers doubted his abilities – this time in the delivery room.
“I’m examining them. I say, ‘This lady isn’t even expanded! What are you doing? They say a rectal exam. I said, ‘Rectal exam! You stopped doing rectal exams in the 19th century. ‘I said, “We’ve done vaginal exams in St. Louis for the past 30 years.” He remembered a time when the OBGYN was on call and rushed to the delivery room to find staff with outdated procedures.
Racism would not be the doctor’s last hurdle. Almost a decade after moving to the Indianapolis Veterans Affairs Clinic and its psychology ward, his father, Dr. Robinson Sr., and his mother murdered in their two-story downtown apartment.
Throughout all of this, Dr. Robinson Jr. forward.
When asked about his greatest achievements, the retired gynecologist pondered: “I say I should develop the technology that I made to take medicine from cutting with a scalpel and suturing people.”
Now Indiana patients have Dr. Thank you Robinson Jr. and Sr. for these medical advances and more!
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