Elijah Saunders, MD

Elijah Saunders, MD, (1934- 2015, age 80) was an internationally renowned expert on hypertension in African Americans. A cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of medicine at UM School of Medicine, he became the first Black cardiologist in Maryland when he completed his fellowship here in 1965, and was integral in abolishing segregated hospital wards at what was then University Hospital (now the University of Maryland Medical Center).

He was a founding member and past president of the Association of Black Cardiologists and was also a past president of the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks. His research indicated that some blood pressure medications are more effective than others for African Americans. Because of his groundbreaking work, drug companies now require that African Americans are included in their studies, especially those involving cardiovascular disease. He also published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and eight books.

Dr. Saunders devoted his career to exploring new treatment options and developing innovative programs to reach patients –often in non-traditional settings in the local community – and to educating at-risk members of the population about the importance of cardiovascular health.

In 2006, he developed the Hair, Heart and Health program in Baltimore, his hometown since birth. The program received international attention and continues to train barbers and hairstylists to pre-screen their clients for hypertension, and make referrals for medical care.

In 2011, he received the prestigious Herbert W. Nickens Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The award honors those who make outstanding contributions to promote justice in medical education and health care equality. In the same year, he was featured in a documentary commissioned by the Diabetes Awareness Project, called "Faces of Diabetes."

Dr. Saunders came from a musical family and played the violin, and co-founded an orchestra made up of Baltimore area medical professionals that played holiday music in December in the hospital lobbies at University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins.

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