Faces of Black Excellence

‘I’m the first, and I won’t be the last’, says woman who has made immunology history

Dr. Kristyn Carter, a student in the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, has made University of Glasgow (UofG) history by being the first Black person to earn Ph.D. in Immunology.

Trailblazer Carter was motivated by Dr. James McCune Smith, the first African American to achieve a medical degree who graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1837. The £90.6 million ($106 million) UofG learning and teaching hub was named in honor of McCune Smith.

Carter, a Ph.D. student with Professor Neal Millar and now a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University working on diabetic skin wound healing took some time to thank her community and convey her hopes that her accomplishment can inspire others in the same manner that McCune Smith did for her.

Coming from the States, Carter had earlier lamented the dearth of Black or even Black female physicians. “I came across Harriet Washington’s book, Medical Apartheid, and learned about Dr McCune Smith’s story. Hearing about his story, being born into slavery, defeating that in a way, and travelling here to pursue education I thought if he can do that, I can do anything!”

She recently said that “In 1837, Dr James McCune Smith graduated from the University of Glasgow, making history as the first African American to earn a University medical degree.”

“Today, I made history as the first Black graduate of the University of Glasgow PhD of Immunology. Being the first black student, of all genders, to graduate with this PhD is a huge honor, and I owe it all to Dr. McCune Smith.”

”I’m the first, and I won’t be the last, and I can only hope my story inspires more people to attend,” Carter added in her graduation video that was shared by UofG. 

Dr. McCune Smith 

McCune Smith was born into slavery in 1813, but on July 4, 1827, the Emancipation Act of New York State set him free.

McCune Smith, who was acknowledged as intellectually talented, attended the African Free School in Manhattan, where his success in the classroom prompted him to submit applications to numerous American universities.

McCune Smith applied to the University of Glasgow’s medical school and was accepted after being rejected by all other institutions owing to his race.

From the University of Glasgow, McCune Smith went on to earn three degrees: a bachelor’s in 1835, a master’s in 1836, and a doctorate in medicine in 1837.

McCune Smith established a practice of medicine in lower Manhattan after moving back to New York, where he became well-known as a renowned intellectual and a prominent member of the city’s black community. ‌

Emmanuel Kwarteng

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