MLK Day: A Day to Reflect on his Life and how We All Can Make a Difference

At Doctors Council, MLK day leads us to reflect on the life and work of Dr. W.V. Cordice Jr., the great Surgeon who along with Dr. Emil Naclerio and Dr. Aubré de Lambert Maynard, as well as the other members of the health care team, saved Dr. King’s life in a Harlem Hospital operating room after he was stabbed during a book signing tour in Harlem in 1958. Dr. Cordice and Dr. Naclerio performed the surgery.

Dr. Cordice said “I think if we had lost King that day the whole civil rights era would have been different.”

In 2012 Dr. Cordice told the story of the surgery on WNYC and he was honored at ceremony at Harlem Hospital in 2013.

He said: “There was a whole lot of brouhaha about you know who did the operation and I didn’t really like to get into that because we saved his life that was the important thing…”

Dr. Cordice continued to be involved in the civil rights movement in his role as a doctor and was the doctor to other leaders members of that movement.

“Circumstances arose where my medical talents were useful to the civil rights activity. I let it be known that I was available and I was available… I saw a number of civil rights marchers in my office.”

Many doctors at the time organized themselves to play a key role in the civil rights movement including the doctors involved in The Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR).

Dr. Aaron O. Wells, the first national president of MCHR, spoke about the organizing energy of that time:

“It was something new for physicians to be involved. It was new; it was not the norm, just as it was not the norm for middle-class Americans to do very much in terms of the civil rights movement in the beginning.”

What can we as doctors learn from the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the experiences of these doctors? What may be new and outside the norm that doctors may need to improve not just the lives of doctors but the patients we care for and the communities we serve? How can we take the inspiration of the civil rights movement and apply it towards medicine and patient care? These are some thoughts we can reflect on MLK Day as we remember his quote: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking
and inhumane.”

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