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Dr. Rose Delores Gibbs Retires After 50 Years, 1st Black Woman MUSC Grad

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  SiSTEM Pioneers

Dr. Rose Delores Gibbs is retiring after becoming the first black woman to graduate from the Medical University of South Carolina.

In 1973, she graduated in the MUSC Horseshoe. As she received her graduation, she gazed left at the Ashley Avenue hospital. A window had been raised.

Gibbs remembers black nurses' aides, secretaries, orderlies, and LPNs glaring down at her. "I was awestruck by their support and unity.”

In 1965, MUSC received its first African American student. However, it would take some time before the institution graduated its first Black students, in 1971. The two were male.

Gibbs first enrolled at the university during the 1969 hospital workers' strike, which began after 12 Black MUSC healthcare workers were fired for advocating for patient safety, better pay, and better treatment.

A College of Charleston web exhibit says five Black nursing aides were fired in 1968 for refusing to work. White charge nurses at MUSC blocked Black hospital employees from reading patient charts. They left after discovering they couldn't care for patients without records.

Black healthcare workers in the city made $1.30 an hour.

Union group Local 1199 and the Poor People's Campaign of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference helped workers set up meetings with hospital administration led by Dr. William McCord, president of the medical college.

The strike started when McCord postponed a meeting with organizers and dismissed 12 workers. After being fired, 400 Black hospital and nursing care workers went on a 100-day strike that improved working conditions and wages for Black hospital staff across the state.

Gibbs was a scientist at Syracuse, New York, debating whether to attend medical school in South Carolina.

She continued her education after graduating in 1973, completing an internal medicine residency at Howard University Hospital and a tropical medicine certificate at Walter Reed. Gibbs then joined the Peace Corps as a doctor. She was the organization's first Black woman chief of medical operations from 1980 to 1984.

She also founded and maintained Berkeley Medical Center in Moncks Corner, where she grew up, for approximately 35 years.

Your ideal treatment

Gibbs has worked in Sierra Leone, Honduras, and Kenya. "Treat patients as you would like to be treated" was her guiding principle.

Satirah James described a trip she and her mother took to Nairobi for a medical conference: "My mom loves all of her patients like family, whether you're new or a 20-year patient."

Gibbs spent eight years in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps doctor, caring for volunteers and foreign staff with unmatched credibility. Her commitment to Peace Corps participants impressed all, especially after she sent a high-risk pregnant volunteer home to give birth.

Jackie Bailor miscarried after having malaria while pregnant. Due to a unique disease in her family, Gibbs urged her to have her second child in the U.K. Bailor disagreed.

Gibbs helped a Bailor neighborhood groundskeeper for free. After being bitten by a rabid dog, the child needed a vaccination. After the British embassy declined to treat Bailor, Gibbs brought him a vaccine.

Bailor said, "Without her, we'd have lost him." She helped everyone and was fair.

Raising her family

Gibbs' decision to leave the Peace Corps and create her own clinic in Moncks Corner surprised many. She had been successful in Washington, D.C., but saw a need for a similar practice in Moncks Corner. She carried what she had learned treating patients in West Africa with her.

Gibbs also learned to diagnose patients without X-rays or other procedures.

Many Black women in the U.S. still strive for this norm to receive high-quality, non-discriminatory medical treatment.

Gibbs opened Berkeley Med in 1986, and she served Black ladies as her patients.

Learning continuously

Gibbs' work isn't done even though she's retiring.

"I'm taking a gap year," she laughed.

She's also attending Cummins Memorial Theological Seminary in Summerville, building her 250-piece art collection, and embarking on mission trips.

Her last trip was a two-week outreach trip to Honduras. With her oldest grandchild, she intends to start a family vacation tradition.

She wants to work with Native Americans in the Southwest and Northwest.

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