(June 2, 1928-May 16, 2020). Born in Gainesville, Florida, George Rawls graduated as the valedictorian from Florida A&M University. He earned his M.D. from Howard University School of Medicine in 1952, with Alpha Omega Alpha honors. He served in the U.S. Army for two years and completed surgical internships and residencies at Philadelphia General Hospital and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, before moving to Indianapolis in 1959.

Rawls served leadership roles in the medical community, joining the Indiana State Medical Association in 1960, eventually being elected the organization’s president in 1990. He also served as president of the Marion County Medical Society, the Aesculapian Medical Society, and the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.

As an early Black surgeon, he broke barriers by becoming a clinical professor of surgery at the Indiana University School Of Medicine (IUSM). After retiring from surgical practice in 1993, he served for seven years as assistant dean for medical student affairs at IUSM. He retired from IUSM with emeritus status in 2001.

George Rawls and Lula Rawls, 2013
Credit: University Library, IUPUI via Indiana State Library

As an educator, he played an important role in advancing medicine as a career for students of African descent. Perhaps most notably, he was instrumental in the launch of its Master of Science in Medical Science while IUSM assistant dean of medical student affairs. This program brings skill-building opportunities to students from underrepresented populations who are preparing for a career in medicine. The program has benefited many students, including Dr. Jerome Adams, the Indiana state health commissioner (2014-2017) and the 20th U.S. surgeon general (2017-2021).

Even before his death, the Indiana University School of Medicine established several scholarships and awards in his name. In 2021, the Indiana Medical History Museum inaugurated an annual lecture series, The George H. Rawls, M.D. Memorial Lecture on the History of Minorities and Medicine.

Rawls was the author of several books, including The Surgeon’s Turn (1986), a memoir of his experience when he was a patient going under the knife, and Papa, I want to Be a Surgeon (1999). He compiled a history of early Black physicians in Indianapolis, History of the Black Physician in Indianapolis, 1870 to 1980 (1984), and also coauthored So You Want to Be a Doctor? A Guide for the Student From High School Through Retirement (2007).

Revised June 2022

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