Statement on Passing of Dr. Natalia Tanner

Dr. Natalia Tanner Cain, known for breaking down barriers in the field of medicine as a second-generation African-American physician, died on July 14, 2018 in Southfield, Mich. She was 96.

Dr. Tanner was the first African-American to serve as the president of Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MIAAP) and the first African-American woman to become a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She practiced medicine in the Detroit area for decades and was also a professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Still, the road to Dr. Tanner’s success was not easy and she faced discrimination head-on along the way.

She was featured in the August 2011 AAP News magazine and said she was initially denied an appointment at Children’s Hospital of Michigan because of her skin color. Later, she became the first African-American board-certified pediatrician on staff there. She also struggled to get her AAP membership transferred from Illinois to Michigan when she moved to Detroit in the 50s. Dr. Tanner became president of the MIAAP in 1983.

Current MIAAP President Teresa Holtrop, MD, FAAP, said she feels honored to have known Dr. Tanner. 

“Years ago, she told me about her plans to write a book about her experiences as a pediatrician, recounting the challenges she faced as a ‘first’ in several arenas. A couple of years ago I ran into her again at one of our conferences and asked her whether she had ever written the book. At the time, she admitted that she hadn’t yet and I urged to her to put her experiences on paper,” Dr. Holtrop said. “I really hope that she did so, because her life was quite extraordinary. She was inspiring in her indomitable spirit.  Well into her 90s she continued to attend weekly grand rounds at Children’s Hospital of Michigan as well as the MIAAP’s Annual Conference, a sign of her inquisitive mind and energy. We have a lot to learn from her example.”

The AAP News article credits Dr. Tanner with lobbying the Michigan Legislature for the successful passage of car seat legislation and for initiating collaboration between the AAP and the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest national organization representing African-American physicians.

Dr. Tanner received numerous awards as a practitioner, professor and advocate, and has been recognized for her many firsts. Read more about Dr. Tanner’s life and legacy at

Funeral Service Details:

Public Viewing for family and friends: Friday, August 3, 2018, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Swanson Funeral Home West, 14751 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, Michigan.

 Omega Omega Ceremony: Friday, August 3, 2018, Performed by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, 6 p.m to 7 p.m., Plymouth United Church of Christ, 600 East Warren Ave., Detroit, Michigan.

 Services: Saturday, August 4, 2018, Family Hour from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Funeral at 11 a.m., Plymouth United Church of Christ, 600 East Warren Ave., Detroit, Michigan.

 In lieu of flowers, the family will be establishing a scholarship memorial fund.