Dr. Sadye Curry
Sadye Curry, MD was the first Black American female gastroenterologist whose professional contributions to the field of gastroenterology embodied the spirit, mission, and vision of the Association of Black Gastroenterologists and Hepatologists (ABGH). Her footprint on the field of gastroenterology is an inspiration for the impact we can make to advance the health of Black communities when we work creatively and collaboratively.
What was Dr. Curry’s background and training?
Dr. Sadye Beatryce Curry, born in 1941 became the first African-American woman gastroenterologist in the United States. She is originally from Reidsville, NC and was inspired by one of her brothers, a cardiologist, to pursue medicine. She attended college at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC where she earned a BS degree in biology and chemistry. She worked as a research technician in the Department of Pediatrics at Duke University before matriculating to medical school at Howard University. She received mentorship from Dr. Walter Lester Henry, Chair of Medicine and graduated medical school in 1967. She completed an Internal Medicine internship at Duke University Medical Center. In an interview with Dr. Joanne Wilson , she recounted that much of her time was spent at Duke’s affiliate hospital, Lincoln Hospital, the primary hospital for African-American patients at that time. She was mentored by Dr. Michael McLeod (now Prof. Emeritus at Duke), and after completing the residency portion of her training in Internal Medicine at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington, DC, she was encouraged to return to Duke for training as a gastroenterologist.
Dr. Curry completed her fellowship and post-doctoral training at Duke in 1972 and joined the GI faculty at Howard University as an Assistant Professor of Medicine. When Dr. Curry arrived at Howard, she intended to practice clinical GI and continue her research on bile acids. As Howard did not have research space for her, she did much of her work in a repurposed dark room where she conducted her self-financed studies. Increasing clinical responsibilities prevented her from continuing her research career and she decided to focus on clinical gastroenterology. In 1973, she was appointed Assistant Chief of Medicine at Howard’s Columbia General Hospital. From 1974-1977 she led Howard’s undergraduate medical education and was promoted to Associate Professor of Medicine in 1978. After retiring from gastroenterology at Howard, Dr. Curry worked at Central Regional Hospital in Butner, NC, a psychiatric hospital for seven to eight years before her final retirement.
Dr. Curry earned several honors while at Howard: the Student Council Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence (1975); Kaiser-Permanente Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching (1978); and the Student American Medical Women’s Association selected her for their Woman of the Year Award (1990). Dr. Curry served as a goodwill ambassador to West Berlin under President Jimmy Carter’s Friendship Force program; was recognized in Who’s Who Among Black Americans; and has been honored by the National Library of Medicine, Honoring the Lives and Achievements of Outstanding American Women Physicians.
How was Dr. Curry a pioneer in the field of gastroenterology?
Dr. Curry was the first African-American to be accepted into Duke’s gastroenterology fellowship program. She recalls being told that as an African-American she would be restricted from some practice sites at Duke and from seeing white patients. Despite those limitations, she took advantage of her training at Duke’s VA hospital. Here she had nearly limitless access to both patients and interactions with GI surgeons. At Duke, Dr. Curry was invited to rotate on the research unit with Dr. Malcolm Tyer where her interest in bile acid metabolism developed while caring for patients with rare disease presentations. She subsequently obtained Instructor status and post-doctoral research training in bile acid metabolism and liver transporters, and in 1972, her research was recognized by the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation. She was the first African-American woman post-doctoral fellow at Duke.
What was Dr. Curry’s major contribution to the field of gastroenterology?
In her own words, Dr. Curry’s major contributions were “to teach medical students, interns, and residents the fun and the beauty and the art of medicine.” In addition to being an exceptional teacher, mentor and clinician, Dr. Curry modeled the physician-scientist career for trainees having begun her own career as a clinician and basic researcher in bile acid metabolism.
What was the Leonidas Berry Society?
Dr. Curry was the founder of the Leonidas Berry Society, an organization of minority gastroenterologists, scientists and surgeons. She also recalls having participation by pharmacists, physician assistants and nursing professionals interested in GI. The organization was incorporated and its members met annually during the American Gastroenterologists Association meeting. While the organization is currently defunct, the Association of Black Gastroenterologists and Hepatologists hopes to continue its legacy.
What would be a message from Dr Curry to our current generation of gastroenterologists, hepatologists, scientists and trainees?
In Dr. Curry’s words, “One cannot go through life without facing obstacles of various types. We have to remain focused, barrel over the obstacles, see the light at the end of the tunnel, and by the Grace of God, keep moving.”
Dr. Curry is a pioneer of gastroenterology and ABGH is deeply indebted to her trailblazing at a time when neither Black people nor women had many opportunities in medicine.