This week, we recognize the accomplishments of Dr. Clarence Sumner Greene, Sr., the first board-certified African American neurosurgeon and a true trailblazer.
Born on December 26, 1901, in Washington, D.C., Clarence Sumner Greene would go on to become the first board-certified African American neurosurgeon in the United States. After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1920, where he excelled both academically and athletically, Greene continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania and received his degree in dentistry in 1926.
After a year of dental practice, Greene realized his aspirations would not be fulfilled through dentistry. He thus enrolled in a premedical program at Harvard University from 1927 to 1929 and completed an internship at Cleveland City Hospital in 1930. Greene then returned to the University of Pennsylvania, earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1932, and matriculated into the Howard University College of Medicine that same year.
Dr. Greene received his medical degree with distinction from the Howard University College of Medicine in 1936 and went on to complete a general surgery residency. In 1938, he became a diplomat of the National Board of Medical Examiners, and the eighth African American to be certiﬁed by the American Board of Surgery five years later. His other medical memberships included that of the American College of Surgeons, the National Medical Association, the Charles R. Drew Society, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, and the Medico-Chirurgical Society of the District of Columbia.
After seven years of general surgery residency and four years as a professor of surgery at Howard University, Dr. Greene was granted the opportunity to train in neurosurgery at the world-renowned Montreal Neurological Institute from 1947 to 1949 under Wilder G. Penﬁeld. Receiving high praise from Dr. Penfield, Dr. Clarence Sumner Greene became the first African American to be certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery on October 22, 1953. Subsequently, he was appointed as chair of neurosurgery at Howard University, where he successfully treated intracranial aneurysms, brain tumors, and herniated intervertebral discs until his untimely death in 1957.
As a true pioneer, Dr. Greene’s achievements opened the door for future African Americans to participate in and enhance the field of neurosurgery, including his own son, Clarence Sumner Greene, Jr., who is a pediatric neurosurgeon practicing in Louisiana.
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Shearwood McClelland, III, M.D., Kimbra S. Harris, B.S., CLARENCE SUMNER GREENE, SR: THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN NEUROSURGEON, Neurosurgery, Volume 59, Issue 6, December 2006, Pages 1325–1327