Helen E. Nash (1921-2012)

Helen E. Nash
Helen E. Nash, 1993

Helen E. Nash broke down racial barriers when she became the first African-American doctor to join the staff of St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1949. A native of Atlanta and graduate of Spelman College, Nash graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1945. Her father, who received his medical degree from Meharry in 1910, was initially resistant to his daughter studying medicine. However, once Helen made the honor roll her first semester, he accepted and supported her career choice.

Internships and residency opportunities were limited for non-white medical school graduates at that time. Homer G. Philips Hospital, opened in 1937 as a segregated hospital, was the only hospital in St. Louis offering learning opportunities and clinical experience to African-American doctors. Nash began a rotating internship there in 1945, working on twelve services in one year. A three-year residency in pediatrics followed. In 1949 she was the only woman among the first four African-American physicians invited to join the staff of the Washington University School of Medicine. As a pediatrician, Nash became a member of the house staff of St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Helen E. Nash with patient
Helen E. Nash with patient, ca. 1990

Nash served for over 40 years on the clinical faculty of Washington University School of Medicine and on the attending staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. At the same time, she maintained a thriving private practice. In addition, she served as pediatric supervisor and associate director of Pediatrics at Homer G. Phillips Hospital from 1950 to 1964. Nash served as president of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital attending staff from 1977 to 1979. Nash was long recognized in the St. Louis community for her commitment to excellence, tireless advocacy on behalf of children, and endless enthusiasm for the field of medicine.

In 1993 Nash retired as professor emeritus (clinical) of Pediatrics. After her retirement, Nash served as the medical school’s dean of Minority Affairs from 1994 to 1996. Since 1996, the Washington University School of Medicine has bestowed the Dr. Helen E. Nash Academic Achievement Award to a student who has exhibited to an unusual degree the qualities of industry, perseverance, determination, and enthusiasm.

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