An interview with Dr. Walter C. Reynolds

This post comes from Zoë Maughan, Student Archives Assistant in the Historical Collections & Archives.

Dr. Walter C. Reynolds, sitting in a chair, during the taping of his oral history interview at the Oregon Medical Association offices
Dr. Walter C. Reynolds during the taping of his interview at the Oregon Medical Association offices in 2007

It was in 2007, just after OHSU named one of the new aerial trams “Walt” in honor of Dr. Walter C. Reynolds, that Dr. Ralph Crawshaw interviewed him for the History of Medicine in Oregon oral history project. The transcript of this interview is now available in our digital collections.

Dr. Walter Reynolds, a U.S. Army veteran, was the first Black graduate of the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU). In this interview, Dr. Reynolds reflects on a wide variety of his experiences, from attending and graduating from medical school to working as one of Portland’s only Black physicians and living in the city at a time of blatant segregation. Dr. Reynolds opened his own clinic in Portland and later went on to lead the medical staff at Emanuel Hospital. As Dr. Reynolds put it: “My whole hearted effort … has always been, to try to improve our community in which we live.”

The most significant theme that emerges from this interview is the importance of cultural competency in health care. Dr. Reynolds characterizes cultural competency as the business of getting to know yourself and extending that knowledge to how you relate to people. He describes how cultural competence is critical for community engagement, and that it is a continuous process: “That’s what should be a requirement for all of us, to constantly work on this business of improving our own cultural competence. It’s a work for the rest of your life.” Dr. Reynolds served as president of the Urban League of Portland in the 1950s, working to combat racism and increase opportunities for people of color, including access to health care and education. He later helped with efforts to recruit minority students at OHSU.

OHSU News wrote about Dr. Reynolds in 2020 on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

In addressing cultural competence, Dr. Reynolds also discusses access to health care and universal health care as fundamental. As he describes, “What needs to be improved [is] the way we look at how we deliver healthcare. Firmly establish the baseline of good healthcare for every individual … Every individual should have access.” He describes how cultural competence plays a role in this perspective, because with good cultural competence, “You’ll know yourself first. You’ll know how to regard other people, treat other people.”

Additional points of discussion include Dr. Reynolds’s experiences serving in the military, the adversity he faced in pursuing a medical education, racial relations in Portland and seeing minority patients at a time when many physicians would not, minority access to medical education and scholarships, and his relationships with Dr. DeNorval Unthank and Dr. Ralph Crawshaw.

Dr. Reynolds passed away on November 17, 2020 at the age of 100.

Read the interview


The History of Medicine in Oregon oral history project was sponsored by the Oregon Medical Education Foundation, with support from the Oregon Medical Association, the Foundation for Medical Excellence, OHSU, and the Oregon Historical Society. We hope to add more interviews from this project to our digital collections in the coming months.