Today, I am on the Hill meeting with legislators as a representative of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Health Disparities Committee. The fact that the Capitol Building and many of the federal offices and workspaces were racially segregated less than 100 years ago is not lost on me. I stand in these marbled halls, built with slave labor, humbled that so many who walked these floors before me, paved a way for blacks to be heard by and be involved in our government.
By now, most people have at least heard of the movie “Selma”. While the movie was not a documentary, it depicted a critical turning point for the Civil Rights Movement that many had forgotten about or perhaps were unaware had happened. If the movie had not been released, I wonder how many would have even known about the 50th Jubilee recognizing the events that occurred on “Bloody Sunday”.
There is so much attention on Martin Luther King, Jr. that other significant leaders of the Civil Rights Movement are often overshadowed. Don’t get me wrong – MLK, Jr. was a remarkable man and a gifted writer and orator. He did GREAT things. Yet do you remember who led that first march over the bridge in Selma??
John Lewis was a young man and a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was one of the first persons who walked over that bridge into the bayonets of the waiting officers. More than 50 peaceful protestors were hospitalized that day. This would not be the last time John Lewis was beaten for his convictions. Please read this short biography; it only gives a brief outline of what this courageous man has accomplished. He still bears significant scars from the beatings he endured to ensure blacks had the right to vote and have every other basic right that was afforded to others. He is now a great congressman, representing the state of Georgia.
The week prior had already been difficult, with the shooting death of a 44yo cardiologist at a local hospital who also happened to be my classmate’s husband. A subsequent email from the Chair of my Department reporting the tragic death of my colleague’s husband who died suddenly while on a business trip in Florida – he was 42.
Nothing could prepare me for the news I was about to receive:
My friend’s 14-year-old daughter had died.
It took about 24 hours for me to summon the courage to call. When we spoke, mom told me that she had gone in to wake her daughter for school and found her unresponsive. Dad tried desperately to revive their baby; he continued CPR until EMT arrived. She was declared dead upon arrival to the hospital.
Today, I am worn – physically, emotionally, mentally, and perhaps even spiritually. Burdened as the eaves of the structures bearing the heavy snows.
Weary indeed, I embrace today’s snow, powdery soft and white - a fresh start. It’s time to live.
Café. We sat down at one of the high-top tables along the atrium windows that look out onto the Bulfinch Building and lawn – the original hospital façade. Two minutes later, we heard loud shouting.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!”
The voice was getting louder and louder. A hush came over everyone in the lower section of the atrium – almost a palpable fear. I looked up the open staircase to the level above and saw a man and his wife holding on to each other as they stood back – waiting. I couldn’t see anything else, but could still hear the man yelling:
“LEAVE ME ALONE!!”
As a physician, my first instinct is to help people. However, for the first time, I hesitated. My initial instinct was overshadowed by fear. I didn’t think the news I’d heard early impacted me, but I found myself debating whether to go and see if I could help. Surely, security would handle the situation, but this fear left me feeling uneasy and vulnerable sitting in that open atrium right along the window.
When I came home that evening, the evening news announced that a physician had been shot during the active shooter situation at my sister hospital earlier in the day. He had been taken immediately to the OR but was still in surgery – not a good sign. Was it someone I knew? They were not releasing the victim’s name.
At 10:45pm, I received the following email from BWH President, Dr. Betsy Nabel:
I am heartbroken to inform you that Dr. Michael J. Davidson, director of Endovascular Cardiac Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has tragically died this evening after sustaining gunshot wounds this morning during the shooting event at the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.
My heart fell. Not only had Michael and I started at BWH together in 2006, we overlapped at Duke Med from 1997-2001. He was dating and ultimately married one of my medical school classmates! My heart goes out to Terri, her 3 little children, and the rest of their family. What an immense tragedy. This is a devastating loss for his family, the hospital, and the medical community.
Most physicians go into medicine because they are truly dedicated to caring for people. With increasing educational debts, changing reimbursements, inability to make appropriate clinical decisions due to restrictive insurance policies, and a spiteful, litigious society, it’s a wonder anyone still chooses to be a doctor.
With my sincere condolences to the family of Dr. Davidson.
Welcome back, people!! Words do not allow me to fully articulate how grateful I am that 2014 is over. It was a very difficult year for my family and me in all ways - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There were highs and low; twists and turns; ups and downs. In my view, 2015 could not have come soon enough!!
Can any of you relate??
Perhaps my husband wasn’t getting enough attention or felt a bit left out. In 2013, I wrote a blog entitled Walking a mile in their shoes, where his predisposition to foot ailments was mentioned. Well, the foot problems returned and worsened! Just after our daughter left for school, my husband went in for a surgical procedure. Let’s just say things didn’t go as planned and he has since undergone 2 additional surgeries and is still recovering.
And yes I joined the fray, requiring oral surgery to complete a root canal. Not sure what was worse, the apicoectomy or the injections into the gums to numb the area. Recovery was fine; in fact, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Association of Underrepresented Minority Fellows (AUMF) the weekend following surgery. I may have looked like a gopher (see photo to right ), but I was there.
As I am finishing up a 20 day fast, part of an annual consecration and renewal encouraged by my church, I here and now recommit to writing this blog regularly. I recommit to fully developing this forum so we can openly discuss the issues that impact the health and wellness of our communities. #racism. #inequity. #Ferguson. #EricGarner. #itooamHarvard. #TrayvonMartin. #bigotry. Let’s have some healing conversations.
Will you engage with me?
~One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community~
Ashley Winkfield is an undergraduate studying Communications at UNC- Chapel Hill.
Joycelyn Elders was the first African-American and the second female to be Surgeon General of the United States. She is a pediatrician with more than 20 years of experience and an expert in growth problems and juvenile diabetes. Another important issue to her was that of teen pregnancy. Throughout her career she ardently advocated for the need to address this growing problem.
Dr. Elders was born on August 13, 1933 in Schaal, Arkansas as Minnie Lee Jones, the eldest of 8 children. She and her siblings worked in the cotton fields starting at age 5 and during harvest time often missed days at their segregated school. She changed her name to Minnie Joycelyn Lee during her college years at the all-black Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas where she received her BS in Biology in 1952. While she did receive a scholarship to attend Philander Smith, she paid for the remainder by scrubbing floors to earn her tuition, while her siblings did extra work to pay for her travel to and from school. She first thought of becoming a doctor when she attended a lecture by Edith Irby Jones, the first African-American to attend the University of Arkansas (UofA) Medical School. After earning her college degree, she worked at a Veterans Administration hospital in Milwaukee as a Nurse’s Aide until joining the army in May of 1953. During her stint with the US Army, Dr. Elders was trained as a physical therapist at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam, Texas. She was able to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School, following in Dr. Jones’ footsteps, on the G.I. Bill, but was still subjected to segregated facilities.
Now retired from practice, she is a professor emeritus at the UofA School of Medicine, and remains active in public health education.
~One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community
Dr. Canady was born in Lansing MI and received her undergraduate degree at U Mich in 1971. She went on to receive her MD at the College of Medicine at U Mich in 1975 and completed a surgery internship at Yale-New Haven hospital in 1976. It has been said that she entered her neurosurgery residency at Univ. of Minnesota in 1976, becoming the first black female neurosurgery resident in the US. But here is why I am confused – was there a black male neurosurgery resident in the US before her? That history is a bit obscure.
While Dr. Clarence Summer Greene, Sr. is the first practicing neurosurgeon in the U.S., he trained in Canada. There is a report of a physician from Nigeria, Dr. E. Latunde Odeku, who received his MD from Howard University in 1954 and then completed a neurosurgical residency at U Mich in 1960. He is reportedly the first African-American trained in neurosurgery in the U.S. After practicing a short while in the U.S., he returned to his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria.
And per the Women in Neurosurgery (WIN) website, it seems there were a few women who completed their training in neurosurgery – test your knowledge using their online quiz! So I am going to highlight a few of Dr. Canady’s known firsts:
· First black woman neurosurgeon in the U.S.
· First black woman neurosurgeon hired at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital
· First black woman certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery
· First black director of Neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan
In 1989, Dr. Canady was inducted into the Michigan Women’s hall of fame – a great and fitting honor for this very special lady!
~One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community.
Dr. Pinn was the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She took on that role in 1991 at the request of Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein, another pioneering woman who was at that time Deputy Director of the NIH. The NIH is the medical research agency for the United States and the largest source of research funding for medical research in the world.
The ORWH is responsible for developing a strategic plan that helps guide the research agenda for NIH funding of projects related to women’s health. In 1994, the NIH revised its inclusion policy to meet this mandate that women and minorities must be included in all of its clinical research studies. What a challenge to take on the role of inaugural Director of a new office at the NIH!
Despite her many firsts and her array of accomplishments, Dr. Pinn remains down-to-earth, approachable, and driven! The best way for you to get a glimpse into how amazing a person she is – listen to her words. Here is the full transcript of an interview Dr. Pinn gave at UVA for their Explorations in Black Leadership series.
I first saw Dr. Pinn in the early 2000’s during an awards Gala for the National Medical Fellowships. I was an NMF scholar; she was one of the special guests. As she took the stage, I saw beauty, intelligence, strength, determination, expertise – all in one person. Dr. Pinn represented everything I aspired to be!
~One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community
Yesterday, January 31, 2014, marked the 149th anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution - the constitutional amendment that formally abolished slavery 2 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring the end of that dehumanizing race-based institution. It still took several additional constitutional amendments and years of fighting against discriminatory practices to get where we are today.
Just as last February my blog focused on the accomplishments of blacks in medicine (see archives), the tradition will continue. But I will lead off the series with one of my favorite black female physicians -
Dr. Vivian Pinn.
~One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community
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