Long before scholars began studying racial, social and economic barriers to health care, the Nash family prioritized health equity by caring for the health and well-being of hundreds, if not thousands, of children in the St. Louis area, many of whom were poor and Black. The family’s legacy will be commemorated with the renaming of a street in its honor on the Washington University Medical Campus.
On Oct. 14, Nash Way will replace Children’s Place between Euclid Avenue on the west to Taylor Avenue on the east. The name change honors beloved pediatricians Helen E. Nash, MD, and her brother Homer E. Nash Jr., MD, who spent decades providing health care to and advocating for generations of children. The late siblings also influenced physicians, trainees and a range of other health-care workers to emphasize health equity in patient care.
In particular, the siblings inspired Alison C. Nash, MD, to continue her aunt’s and father’s legacies by practicing pediatrics at St. Louis Children’s beginning in 1989. A Washington University professor of clinical pediatrics, Nash now treats the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her aunt’s and father’s adoring patients at Nash Pediatrics in north St. Louis.
She continues the family legacy by serving as a community representative for Children’s Hospital and by training and mentoring medical trainees on the challenges of community outpatient settings, as well as St. Louis Public School students who plan to pursue medicine and science. Nash also is the medical director of Healthy Kids Express, which sends mobile care units into communities to provide dental and asthma care and screen for hearing and vision abnormalities, lead poisoning and anemia.
“Dad and Aunt Helen have been the most perfect role models and mentors in life and pediatric health care,” Alison Nash said. “During their training at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, both experienced the effects of health inequity on the patients they cared for. This solidified a resolve to do all they could to help. They chose to establish their pediatric practices in north St. Louis, the community where they lived, and the community whose population was poor, underserved, vulnerable and lacked adequate health care. They built a strong tradition of providing excellent health care to families in the African American community with a whole-family, whole-community approach to treating and preventing illness in children.
“Seeing them in action throughout my childhood inspired me to choose a career in pediatric medicine and work toward health equity. I consider it a privilege to continue their legacy.”
Similarly, Helen and Homer Nash were inspired by their father, Homer E. Nash Sr., MD, who graduated medical school in 1910 and practiced general medicine in Atlanta as one of the country’s first Black physicians.
“The Nash family’s legacy continues to define pediatric care in St. Louis,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, Washington University’s executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor. “For decades, the Nash family has fought for children in the community who have lacked access to basic health care. The Nashes embody compassionate medicine by valuing the humanity of patients and their families with kindness, respect and advocacy.”
In 1949, Helen Nash started her pediatric practice in the city and became one of the first four Black physicians on the medical school’s clinical faculty; specifically, she was the first Black woman to join the attending staff at Children’s Hospital. There, she helped create one of the first specialty wards for premature infants.
From 1994 to 1996, she served as acting dean of minority affairs. In addition to being the recipient of numerous awards, Helen Nash created several scholarships for St. Louis students of all ages who want to pursue careers in medicine and science. Each year, the medical school honors a student with the Dr. Helen E. Nash Academic Achievement Award.
Helen Nash died at age 91 in September 2013.
Homer Nash Jr. served in the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II — where he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star — before graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., in 1951. The following year, he moved to St. Louis to train in pediatrics under his sister at the renowned Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which served the city’s Black patients. He opened a practice in the city and became a clinical professor at Washington University.
Later, he joined the medical staffs of hospitals affiliated with the university, including St. Louis Children’s, where he participated on multiple committees and advisory boards. Additionally, he worked with the Community Outpatient Practice Experience, a medical training program in community pediatrics.
Homer Nash Jr. died in April at age 96.
Washington University, with support from institutional leaders on the Medical Campus, initiated the street renaming, and the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved it earlier this year.
The dedication ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. via livestream and at the Eric P. Newman Education Center on the Medical Campus. It is open to the public; however, registration is required.
The event coincides with the 26th annual Homer G. Phillips lecture, which pays homage to the hospital that also served as the premier training ground for Black medical professionals. Donald M. Suggs, DDS, the president and publisher of the St. Louis American newspaper, will give a talk on the Nash legacy and how it helped pave the way for health equity in St. Louis.
Also speaking will be Perlmutter; Trish Lollo, president of St. Louis Children’s Hospital; Will Ross, MD, associate dean for diversity, principal officer for Community Partnerships, and the Alumni Endowed Professor of Medicine; St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones; and Alison Nash, who will represent the family.
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