Centennial Spotlights

Jean Gaillard Spaulding

The first Black woman to graduate from the Duke School of Medicine in 1972, Jean Spaulding went on to help lead Duke Health as an administrator, making primary health care accessible to low-wealth residents across Durham and beyond.

While serving as vice chancellor of health affairs in the 1990s, she deployed busloads of medical providers in Durham neighborhoods, and even at the state fair.

“And we found an awful lot of illness,” Spaulding said, “but we also found a lot of people that we could help.”

Spaulding grew up in Highland Park, Michigan, a racially and culturally diverse enclave six miles from downtown Detroit.

Spaulding often said that upon enrolling at Duke, being in the South made her feel “that I went back a hundred years.”

It was challenging enough being the only Black woman at the medical school, “the only African American — the only minority of any sort in the class,” Spaulding said. She couldn’t help but stand out.

“There was no fading in the woodwork at all,” she said. “It was a matter of toughing it out, and there were no other individuals who were having the same experience.”

Spaulding still operates the private practice she started nearly fifty years ago.

She credited campus leaders including Mary and Jim Semans with changing the climate on campus – for women, African Americans and other people of color.

Spaulding said she had the opportunity to examine Duke “not from the eyes and the perspective of the traditional hospital administrator, but from the perspective of what needs to change here.”