Medical School’s First Black Grad Now Black Medical Staff Head

Dr. James D. Griffin, the first Black graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern’s medical school, was elected as the first Black president of the Medical Staff at Parkland Health.

Dr. James D. Griffin is the first Black graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern’s medical school to join the school’s faculty, as well as the chief of Anesthesiology at Parkland Health, a hospital located in Dallas, Texas. Griffin made even more history, recently he was elected as the first Black president of the medical staff at Parkland Health.

Griffin, as NBC DFW reported, shares a special connection with Parkland; he was born in the hospital’s segregated wing in 1958. In an interview with the outlet, Griffin reflected on that history and his parents, who he says pushed him to believe in himself, beyond the limits that society placed on Black people in the Jim Crow South. “To be born at Parkland in a time when my mother could not receive health care in any other hospital was important. At that time, Parkland’s maternity ward was segregated so the African American babies were born in one part of the hospital and everyone else was born somewhere else,” Griffin said.

Griffin continued, praising the values his parents instilled in him, “We never talked about what we couldn’t do. It was always based in faith on what was possible if we put our minds to it.”

In a press release from Parkland, Griffin connected his past and the past of his parents to his historic achievement, saying that it represented significant progress for the hospital and society in general. “Until I became a second grader, my parents couldn’t vote. So being elected by my peers connects me back to a point in time where people like me did not have a voice,” Dr. Griffin said.  “In order to get here, I had to be voted in by a number of physicians who didn’t look like me. To me that paints a broad picture of where we have advanced in just one lifetime.”

Griffin’s remarkable career has stretched over 40 years, eventually becoming a distinguished teaching professor and the Vice-Chair of Anesthesiology and Pain Management at his alma mater. In 2021, Griffin was awarded the Leaders in Clinical Excellence Service Award from UTSW. Dr. Griffin reflected on his career and as the son of two school teachers, he has a deeply embedded passion for education, as he told Center Times Plus, “Service is in my genes. Teaching is in our blood, which is probably one reason I stayed on the faculty at UT Southwestern. Teaching in medicine is a never-ending quest to construct bridges over chasms of the unknown or misunderstood.”

Griffin continued, “We have a big gap in treatment outcomes of patients who come from under-resourced communities, because of limited access to health care,” said Dr. Griffin, before explaining that good healthcare is a public good. “I believe that when we provide adequate resources, good nutrition, adequate housing, and education, the community thrives, so we have an obligation to make sure we foster a balanced society for all.”

In his new capacity, Griffin will seek to create that balanced society through his efforts at the hospital, driven by a desire to help others. He added, “We can change this little part of our Earth, like Archimedes, who said, ‘Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.’” 

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