Dr. Richard Allen Williams, Founder of the Association of Black Cardiologists (1974), is a cum laude honors graduate of Harvard University (1957). He subsequently attended the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center where he received the M.D. degree in 1962. He then performed an internship at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, a residency in Internal Medicine at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, and a Cardiology fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School where he later joined the faculty.
In 1972, he helped to open and to inaugurate the new Dr. Martin Luther King Hospital in Watts, California, where he served as the Assistant Medical Director. During this time, he wrote the grant proposal that garnered $2.75 million dollars from NIH to initiate the King-Drew Sickle Cell Center, one of the first in the nation, of which he became Director.
In 1974, he moved to the UCLA campus where he became the Chief of the Heart Station at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital, subsequently rising to become head of the Cardiology Department. At present he is Clinical Professor of Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine (full Professor), where he has been a faculty member for 46 years.
He is also the Founder of the Minority Health Institute (1985), which focuses on educational programs to teach doctors about cultural competency, diversity, and healthcare disparities. Among his eight books are the seminal, landmark Textbook of Black Related Diseases (McGraw-Hill, 1975), Humane Medicine, volumes 1 and 2 (Lippincott, 1999, 2001), The Athlete and Heart Disease (Lippincott, 2000), The Heart of the Matter (2000), and Healthcare Disparities at the Crossroads with Healthcare Reform (Springer, 2011). Dr. Williams has received many honors including the Scroll of Merit from the National Medical Association, their highest award. He was given the legendary Louis B. Russell, Jr. Memorial Award by the American Heart Association for outstanding service in the minority community. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Harvard Medical School in 2004 in recognition of his successful efforts to increase diversity at that institution when he was on the faculty there. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Minority Quality Forum in 2009, and he was inducted into fellowship with the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and the American College of Physicians. He was named as one of the 100 Best Doctors in America by Black Enterprise Magazine, and in 2012, he was honored as the Ethnic Physician of the Year by the California Medical Association Foundation. In 2013, he was designated a Local Hero for his outstanding community service by KCET-TV, and he also received the International Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award at the United Nations from the National Council of Women of the United States in recognition of his global contributions in uplifting the health of people in other countries including Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and the Virgin Islands. He received the International Health and Human Services Award from the Links in 2015.
Dr. Williams is a frequent lecturer and consultant on healthcare disparities and healthcare reform for the NAACP and other organizations and institutions. He was one of the initiators of the concept of Cultural Competency. He is considered an international expert on hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, obesity, heart failure, healthcare disparities, healthcare reform, and sudden cardiac death. He served as Chair of Region VI of the National Medical Association and is a member of the NMA Board of Trustees and of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity (the Boule’). He is also an honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. One of his most recent honors (2014) is from the American Heart Association from which he received the prestigious LifeSaver Award at the Heart Ball in New York City for his dedicated service in rescuing lives and improving health especially for African Americans. He is the first black doctor to be given this honor.
Dr. Williams was honored recently by the UCLA Black Alumni Association with the 2018 Jackie Robinson Trailblazer Award for his lifetime dedication to opening doors of opportunity for African American and other minorities in medicine and for helping to eliminate healthcare disparities. Recently Dr. Williams served as the 117th President of the 50,000-member National Medical Association (2015-2016). He also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Delaware State University on May 13, 2017, and the President’s Medal from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science was conferred upon him on June 5, 2017. Dr. Williams also received an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, his medical school alma mater, in May 2018 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
In May 2017 he was invited to be the keynote speaker on “Heart Disease and Women’s Health: Challenges and Disparities” at Meharry Medical College as part of the 29th Annual W.F.B. James, M.D. Symposium/ Carr A. Treherne Memorial Lecture.
In January 2019 he received the prestigious Trailblazer Award for Leadership in Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity from the Heart Institute of the Caribbean in Kingston, Jamaica. The special awards ceremony for Dr. Williams was held at the Bob Marley Museum.
Another recent honor is the 2019 Distinguished Award for Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion, which he received at the Convocation of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans in March 2019.
The American Medical Association Foundation held the Dr. Richard Allen Williams Testimonial Dinner and Gala on June 22, 2019, in Beverly Hills, California to honor him for 50 years of work dedicated to the elimination of healthcare disparities and increasing diversity and inclusion in healthcare.
In January 2020, he was given the iconic John P. McGovern Compleat Physician Award in Houston, Texas by the Houston Academy of Medicine, following an Oslerian tradition of similar awards to Debakey, Cooley and McCusick. He was the first black physician so honored.
Dr. Williams completed his ninth book, Blacks in Medicine: Clinical, Demographic, and Socioeconomic Correlations, which was published by Springer in April 2020. Its focus is on healthcare disparities, diversity, inclusion, and equity in healthcare delivery. It has already been acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for inclusion in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest exponents on health problems of African Americans, and the major living historian of blacks in medicine, following in the tradition of his mentor, Dr. W. Montague Cobb.
The following quotation from Dr. Williams epitomizes his fervent passion for eliminating healthcare disparities and achieving equity in Medicine: “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me to accomplish my medical achievements. He stated, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’ That motivated me to conserve and to dedicate some energy and time at the end of every day to help someone in need after I had taken care of my own priorities. I recommend this principle to everyone as a method to improve our universal well-being.”