Dr. James F. Densler, First African-American Pediatric Surgeon to Practice in U.S., Retires from Morehouse School of Medicine


Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) recently held a retirement reception honoring Dr. James F. Densler, professor of Surgery and Pediatrics and a pioneer in the medical field.

Densler has been working at MSM since 2000 in the departments of Surgery and Pediatrics, as well as the departments of Medical Education and Pathology/Anatomy, though he has been involved with the institution since its start and can’t help wanting to remain part of the MSM community.

"I'm not leaving," he noted before the May 12 reception. "I'll still be here for special projects and such."

Densler, known as "Dr. D. - The Fun Doctor," has been a first in many areas of his career. Some of his most notable achievements include:

  • First African-American pediatric surgeon to practice in the United States (1969).
  • First African-American to be accepted into the Surgical section of the American Academy of Pediatrics (1971).
  • The second African-American to be certified in pediatric surgery (1976).
  • Locally, the first African-American to serve on the Hospital Authority of Fulton County for Northside Hospital, Atlanta, Ga. (1980-1988).

Densler retired from his busy practice in 1999 and then started to work for MSM in the Department of Medical Education, teaching first- and second-year students. He was no stranger to the institution. When Densler was chief of staff at Southwest Community Hospital in the 1970s, he invited MSM, which was then in the planning stages, to use the hospital to train its students and residents. When the medical school opened, he gave lectures to the charter class and trained many students and residents in his practice.

"I've seen the school come from a doublewide trailer" to this "marvelous" institution it is now, Densler said.

Densler's retirement reception included proclamations and letters from President Barack Obama, Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Meharry Medical College National Alumni Association, National Medical Association, MSM National Alumni Association, MSM Student Government Association, MSM James Densler Surgical Society, Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, Georgia State Medical Association and the Atlanta Medical Association, and MSM President Emeritus Dr. Louis Sullivan. A farewell video included MSM President and Dean Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice and remarks from prominent faculty and staff members.

"Dr. Densler, as I've told you several times, you've been a personal inspiration to me and probably the single most important factor for my decision to go into surgery," said Dr. Frank Jones, assistant professor of Surgery at MSM.

Read Densler's biography here.