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Carrying the torch: Five African American GI changemakers

Showcasing our undaunted colleagues in the fight to end health disparities in Black communities.
Copy of AGA_BHMRecognition_2021_Twitter (2)
Copy of AGA_BHMRecognition_2021_Twitter (2)

During Black History Month, we are continuing to recognize the long-lasting impact African Americans have had on the field of digestive diseases by highlighting our colleagues whose efforts are helping to eradicate health disparities and promote workforce diversity. We started by showcasing the first Black GIs, and now we’d like to celebrate some of the exceptional GIs of today.

Byron Cryer, MD

Byron Cryer, MD

Associate Dean for Faculty Diversity and Development
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Byron Cryer, MD, is a professor of medicine and associate dean for faculty diversity and development at UT Southwestern Medical Center. His clinical and research interests focus on the pathophysiology of acid-peptic diseases of the upper gastrointestinal tract including Helicobacter pylori-induced ulcer disease.

Dr. Cryer has been a champion for diversity through his leadership at AGA, spearheading many of AGA’s diversity initiatives. He serves as co-principal investigator of the AGA FORWARD program and leads the AGA GI FORGING FORWARD series. The goal of both NIH-funded programs is to support underrepresented minority physician scientists in leadership and practical educational training in timely topics for GIs through the lens of COVID-19. Dr. Cryer currently serves as co-chair of the AGA Equity Project Advisory Board and was the co-founder of AGA’s Future Leaders Program. Dr. Cryer also previously served on the AGA Governing Board.

Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD

Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD

Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology
University of Arizona College of Medicine

Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD, is professor of medicine and chief of the division of gastroenterology at University of Arizona College of Medicine. She is also a member of the Cancer Biology Research Program at University of Arizona. Dr. Merchant’s primary research interests include transcriptional control mechanisms regulating cell growth and differentiation and microbial-host interactions in the upper GI tract. Learn more about her research in this AGA Research Foundation profile.

Dr. Merchant mentors several minorities hoping to blaze their own trails as physician-scholars through her program. She often tells her mentees and students of color that their mentors, may not look like them but as more of them enter academics, she notes, this dynamic should change.

Dr. Merchant has received several awards over the years from AGA including the Distinguished Achievement Award in Basic Science and the AGA Institute Research Mentor Award, and has been honored as an Outstanding AGA Women in Science Honoree. She serves with Dr. Cryer as co-principal investigator of AGA’s FORWARD program helping to build the careers of underrepresented minority physician scientists in GI. 

Christian Jackson, MD

Christian Jackson, MD

Chief of Gastroenterology
Veterans Affairs Loma Linda Healthcare System

Christian Jackson, MD, is chief of gastroenterology at the Veterans Affairs Loma Linda Healthcare System and is affiliated with Loma Linda University Medical Center. His contributions to the field of gastroenterology are focused on colorectal cancer and how it affects African American communities.

Dr. Jackson gives talks about his research on colorectal cancer in the Black community and is heavily involved with the I AM ABEL foundation based in Chicago, an outreach program that primarily helps African American high school and college students become familiar with the medicine field. 

*Please note the image of Dr. Jackson has been updated. We apologize for the confusion. 

Joan A. Culpepper-Morgan, MD

Joan A. Culpepper-Morgan, MD

Chief and Program Director of Gastroenterology
NYC Health and Hospitals, Harlem

Joan A. Culpepper-Morgan, MD, is the chief of gastroenterology and program director of gastroenterology at NYC Health and Hospitals in Harlem. Her current research focuses on health care disparities in the African American community including access to colorectal cancer screening and hepatitis B screening. Dr. Culpepper-Morgan also has a love for exploring the roots and perpetuation of racism in health care especially in gastroenterology and hepatology. Her interest for improving health care in her community has led her to publish numerous articles in the field of GI concentrating on liver disease in African Americans and six medical mission trips to Jamaica.

Dr. Culpepper-Morgan is currently in her second year as AGA’s Education and Training Committee and has been involved in several subcommittees over the years.

Joanne A. Peebles Wilson, MD

Joanne A. Peebles Wilson, MD

Professor of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology
Duke University School of Medicine

Joanne A. Peebles Wilson, MD, is a professor of medicine of the gastroenterology division at Duke University School of Medicine. Over the years, Dr. Wilson has developed an outstanding reputation for her endoscopic expertise and astute diagnostic skills in all areas of gastroenterology, particularly inflammatory bowel disease.

Dr. Wilson was the only African American in Duke University’s school of medicine class of 1973 and only the second African American woman to receive a medical degree from the university. After completing her fellowship at the VA Medical Center, Dr. Wilson was recruited back to Duke in 1986 to become the first African American woman to receive tenure in the history of their school of medicine.

Dr. Wilson is a long-standing and active member of AGA serving as the first woman and first African American secretary of our governing board and has been previously honored as one of our Outstanding Women in Science.

Join our Black History Month featured discussion

Join us next week for our AGA Community Roundtable Bridging the Gap: Where are we in Achieving Diversity and Inclusion in Gastroenterology. The discussion will be an opportunity for members to learn about strategies and efforts to help achieve diversity and inclusion in our field. Click “Follow” to receive email updates from the Roundtable. We encourage you to post your questions for our panelists in the Roundtable.

Here’s a list of our panelists:

  • Byron Cryer, MD
  • Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD
  • John M. Carethers, MD, AGAF
  • Christian Jackson, MD
  • Andrea Reid, MD
  • Joan Culpepper-Morgan, MD
  • Moderator: Ronke Oduyebo, MD


Learn more about the
AGA Equity Project

Be part of AGA Giving Day and help the AGA Research Foundation foster and support the careers of underrepresented researchers. Donate now through Oct. 26.

AGA grants supported by Giving Day will help spark diverse students’ interest in GI research careers and launch underrepresented investigators’ academic research careers.

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