Pioneering African-American Women Inspire Next Generation of Physicians

TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine host prominent physicians Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., and Velma Scantlebury, M.D., during a discussion at Texas Christian University.

By Prescotte Stokes III

FORT WORTH – It’s not every day that aspiring physicians and healthcare professionals get the opportunity to meet pioneering physicians.

Charna Kinard, a third-year medical student at TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, along with about 100 hundred other students from TCU got that opportunity with Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., and Velma Scantlebury, M.D., visiting professor at the school of medicine, during their book signing and a fireside chat in mid-November.

Kinard was appreciative of being able to have access to someone such as Dr. Scantlebury during the event, but also during some class instruction.

“It’s like experiencing history in the making,” Kinard said. “I admire her so much. She’s a trailblazer. She made her own path. To get that experience from her is like refilling your own cup of motivation.”

The event, which was hosted by the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, was held inside TCU’s Brown Lupton University Union (BLUU) Auditorium with help from The Illustrious Iota Eta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., JPS Health System, C.V. Roman Medical Society – Dallas Chapter, TCU Pre-Health Professions Institute and TCU School of Interdisciplinary Studies Women & Gender Studies, who were sponsors of  the event.

Dr. Scantlebury, the first African-American woman transplant surgeon of the United States. and Dr. Ross-Lee, the first African-American woman appointed dean of a U.S. medical school, shared some insight into their own journeys into medicine with those in attendance. Both women are also featured in the newly published book ‘Against All Odds: Celebrating Black Women in Medicine’ by Crystal R. Emery. They spoke about their roles in helping change the face of medicine as Black women working in medicine and medical education.

The chat was moderated by Tricia Elliott, M.D., FACS, professor at the school of medicine and Senior VP, Academic and Research Affairs, Chief Academic Officer with JPS Health Network, who said she was honored to share the stage with the pioneering physicians.

“Having a discussion with physicians and medical educators of their stature with these students is absolutely critical,” Dr. Elliott said. “We have to help them understand where Black women and women of color fit within our healthcare system and the power that we have to be able inspire our students to see what they can accomplish in medicine.”

Dr. Ross-Lee opened the discussion sharing her thoughts on why it is critical that more African-American women and women of color become physicians and move into leadership roles in medical education.

“Medicine has some significant issues and in order to address those issues we need to have broader perspectives that include people of color and include women,” Dr. Ross-Lee said.

Dr. Ross-Lee, who is currently the chair of American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) Racism and Injustice in Healthcare Education Adaptive Working Group and president elect of the American Osteopathic Foundation, was the first African-American woman to serve as dean of Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine from 1993 to 2001.

“It was not my goal to teach the world what women of color could do but I was not going to be limited by what the world said I could do,” Dr. Ross-Lee said.

Dr. Scantlebury echoed the sentiment about having to prove she belonged in medicine.

“Even in my generation in the ’70s and ’80s, just like Dr. Ross-Lee, I was told I couldn’t be a doctor because I wasn’t your typical white male,” Dr. Scantlebury said.

Dr. Scantlebury recently retired from Christiana Care’s Kidney Transplant Program where she served as the Associate Director and Director of Outpatient Clinics in Delaware. She earned her medical degree from Columbia University in New York City. After completing her residency in general surgery at Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, she did her fellowship training in transplant surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and then joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where she rose to the rank of associate professor of surgery in 1989.

She has been named to both the “Best Doctors in America” and “Top Doctors in America” lists multiple times. She was recently awarded the Delaware History Makers for 2021 sharing company with other prestigious winners of that award such as President Joe Biden.

Among the students in attendance for the chat was Hira Nazim, a third-year medical student at the school of medicine. She said she felt inspired to continue breaking down barriers for people of color and women in medicine just as Dr. Scantlebury and Dr. Ross-Lee have done.

“Meeting people who have navigated those terrains already I think gives us a really good framework of how we can do it ourselves and help the people who come after us,” Nazim said.