Dr. Thaddeus Bell of Charleston has started a scholarship fund with the Coastal Community Foundation to provide scholarships to Black students pursuing careers in health at the Medical University of South Carolina. Photo provided.

The relationship between Black America and medicine is complicated. Its history includes experimental surgeries on enslaved women by South Carolina native J. Marion Sims. From the Depression through the 1970s came cruel syphilis studies at Tuskegee in Alabama. And when one considers the staggering maternal mortality rates for Black women today, there’s an abundance of mistrust within Black communities.

Furthermore, while roughly 13% of the country’s population identifies as Black, only 5% of physicians represent this population, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). 


Fixing this issue could be a fresh step to regaining the trust of the Black community. And that’s where Charleston’s Dr. Thaddeus J. Bell comes in. He is a Black physician making waves in the Charleston community to address the issues like today’s mistrust while carving a path for a healthier future. 

In 2006, Bell established the Thaddeus John Bell, M.D., Family Scholarship Endowment at the Coastal Community Foundation to provide scholarships to Black students pursuing careers in health at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). 

“In order for the health of African Americans and people of color and other underserved populations to change, there needed to be more people that looked like me and come from a background like mine in the profession,” Bell explained. He recognized that the common denominator barring Black people from joining the profession was money. So, the scholarship was born. 

Bell’s journey into medicine began in 1962 when he witnessed the achievements of his mother’s first cousin, Dr. Cyril Spann, as the only trained Black surgeon in South Carolina at the time. Spann’s success helped Bell realize that a career in the medical field was not just a dream, but an achievable goal. 

After his first few years in the world of medicine, Bell understood there were clear and  significant disparities in the treatment of Black patients. He concluded that developing a scholarship for Black students was a critical need. 

“We do know that Black people would like to be treated by other Black folk because culturally they feel more comfortable with them,” Bell said. “I feel that if we have more people that look like me in the profession that racism may go away and the trust issue may fade away, but we still have a long way to go.” 

Recent scholarship recipients are flourishing


To see just how impactful Bell’s scholarship is, one needs to look no further than its recipients who represent the best of the scholarship and the future of medicine.

Marquise Snipes, a 2019 scholarship recipient, is currently a first-year pediatric dental resident at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. 


“To be a Black man in the dental field means that I have broken boundaries and unlocked new heights that were set against me by our system while also allowing me to provide an opportunity for mentorship to those that look like me,” said Snipes. 

“Receiving the Thaddeus Bell scholarship meant a lot more than just financials to me. It meant that my hard work to get where I was at that time was being recognized and gave me the push I needed to continue my journey and remember why I started in the first place.”

A career in medicine has been a lifelong dream of Darnecia Sylve, a 2022 recipient who is currently studying for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Witnessing her mother’s battle with Crohn’s disease acted as powerful motivation. 

“In my mother’s medical journey, I never saw a reflection of myself in the providers,” said Sylve. “That set my fire to be in medicine that much greater.” 

During Black History Month, it is important to discuss the issues plaguing the Black community. But the Coastal Community Foundation also finds it important to highlight those like Bell, Snipes and Sylve who are making a great difference every day. 

Emily Wingfield is a staff member of the Coastal Community Foundation.

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