Notoriety of the USPHS Syphilis Study in Tuskegee often obscures the achievements of Tuskegee Institute in improving the health care of African Americans. These achievements include initiating National Negro Health Week, building the John A. Andrew Hospital, creating the John A. Andrew Clinical Society, establishing a nurse training school, and organizing a school for midwives. Tuskegee attained University status in 1985 and has since begun offering its first doctoral programs in integrative biosciences. In 1996, the School of Nursing and Allied Health and the School of Veterinary Medicine were joined to form the College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, one of five Colleges within the University at that time.
The Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital opened in 1923 on 300 acres of land donated by the Institute. It was the first and only staffed by Black professionals.
The School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee was founded in 1945. Today, nearly 75% of Black veterinarians in America are Tuskegee graduates.
The Tuskegee Institute Training School of Nurses was registered with the State Board of Nursing in Alabama in September 1892 to give instruction to young men and women of color who desired to learn the art of caring for the sick. Since its inception, the nursing program has enrolled more than 6,000 students during its 112 years of service. Its alumni today are practitioners contributing to the excellence of health care throughout the world. In 1948, the School began its baccalaureate program leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. This program has the distinction of being the first nursing school in the State of Alabama. The nursing program also holds the distinction of being one of the oldest at a historically-Black institution.
Halle Tanner Dillon, the first "colored" woman taking the doctors' examination in the state of Alabama, later served as resident physician at Tuskegee Institute, from 1891 to 1894. During her tenure she was responsible for the medical care of 450 students as well as for 30 officers and teachers and their families. Her older brother was famed landscape painter Henry Ossawa Tanner.
For many years, the John A. Andrew Hospital was the only public medical facility in Macon County, Alabama, and was one of the few places rural blacks could get treated. Each year, the hospital held free medical clinics for the rural Blacks who lived nearby – not just from Macon County, but also from across the state and from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. It offered an opportunity for Black doctors to gather, to teach and inspire each other and to network. Black doctors traveled down from urban medical centers all over the country. Dr. Charles Drew was on his way to attend one of those conferences when he was killed in a car accident in 1950. Each year, Tuskegee Institute hosted a conference for Black doctors from all over the country.One of its standouts was the Infantile Paralysis Unit. Tuskegee offered a bi-monthly Cripple Children's Clinic at the hospital. Dr. John A. Kenny, medical director at Tuskegee Institute from 1902-1924, founded the John A. Andrew Clinical Society.
The hospital became the base for a three-county rural health system, a prototype for the delivery of rural health services Local citizens who were trusted and respected throughout their neighborhoods were recruited and trained by Tuskegee to serve as health aides. Stationed in churches and other local institutions, the aides identified people who needed care and scheduled them for visits by a provider team from the Tuskegee-based hospital.The team traveled to the sites in a specially-designed mobile van staffed by a Tuskegee-trained nurse practitioner and a laboratory technician, who doubled as the driver. The van was outfitted as a mobile medical office, and was linked to its Tuskegee base by phone and fax. This enabled the nurses to communicate readily with Tuskegee physicians, who could fax signed prescriptions and medical information immediately to the vans.
The Annual Tuskegee Negro Conference started in 1892, providing a forum for rural Blacks to talk about their problems and identify solutions. They expanded to include a health component, with health exhibits, talks by health officials and free physical exams by nurses.
The Tuskegee Women's Club founded by Margaret Washington (wife of President Booker T.) sent members into homes in the neighboring town to promote cleanliness, personal hygiene, good homemaking and mothering skills. They talked to other Black women about ways to improve the health of their families—cooking and serving food; how to ventilate houses; washing clothes; brushing teeth; preventing diseases like tuberculosis and typhoid fever, etc.
National Negro Health Week was founded at Tuskegee in 1915. Booker T. Washington came up with the idea of a national health education and promotion campaign. He wanted both Black and White organizations to support the promotion of improved sanitation and hygiene among Black people, and to get the federal government to pay increased attention to Black health problems and issues. Tuskegee served as the headquarters of National Negro Health Week, and reached thousands of African Americans from 1915 to 1930, when the United States Public Health Service took it over and turned it into a year-round program.
Booker T. Washington referred to the Tuskegee Movable School as "a farmer's college on wheels." It started out as a mule-drawn wagon, and graduated to a truck carrying staff and all kinds of equipment. Home demonstration agents brought health education, especially information on nutrition, sanitation and hygiene directly to rural Black women. In 1920, the school added a public health nurse to the crew.