August 05, 2016
When Dr. James M. Whittico Jr. moved to St. Louis in 1940 for a surgical internship, legal equality for African-Americans was not yet the law of the land. That wouldn’t happen until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing race-based discrimination and ending racial segregation in schools, businesses and public places across the country.
But Whittico didn’t let segregation get in the way of pursuing his lifelong medical career, which ended when he retired in 2015 at the age of 99.
“I lived my whole life in segregated communities,” says Whittico, who was born in 1915 in the small coal mining town of Williamson, West Virginia. “I didn’t overcome segregation; I just put up with it and worked from within the system to change it.”
Now 101 years old, The Private Client Reserve client reflects on the many positions he’s held in the medical industry, helping him increase the number of black physicians and, in so doing, improving access to health care for African-Americans. “I think it’s important that black patients have access to physicians; I helped by breaking down barriers,” Whittico says.
Whittico earned his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. He completed surgical medical training at the black-segregated Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis and a two-year fellowship in experimental surgery at Washington University. After earning certification by the American Board of Surgery and being inducted into the American College of Surgeons, he entered private practice in the early 1950s.
For more than 60 years, he owned and managed his own multispecialty, community-based group medical practice in St. Louis, providing immediate and affordable health care for African-Americans with an onsite clinical laboratory and radiology services.