Growing up in South Florida, Albert R. Robinson III, M.D. recalled sitting with his mother in a restaurant as a boy and being ignored by the wait staff.
“We continued to sit there and never got served,” said the UF College of Medicine assistant professor of anesthesiology.
After they decided to leave, his mother explained they were treated this way because of the color of their skin, Robinson said. However she encouraged him to not dwell in anger, but instead to pursue an education to move beyond such injustices.
“Be mindful of what you set out to do — doors will open,” Robinson told the audience of students, faculty and staff.
Robinson was one of four UF clinicians on a Nov. 29 panel discussion, entitled “Clinicians of Color: How they got here,” that highlighted their experiences as a minority in health care and their commitment to promoting diversity.
The event was associated with the exhibit, “Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons.” The National Library of Medicine exhibit, which UF hosted Oct. 18 through Dec. 2, was sponsored by the UF Health Science Center Libraries.
Raised by a single mother who was a home economics teacher, Robinson said his grandfather constantly told him that he would be a lawyer, engineer or physician. Robinson’s grandfather had grown up in the small town of Micanopy, Fla. and helped construct some of the UF buildings on campus. However, he told Robinson that he wanted a different life for him—to work inside those university walls, as an educated man.
While attending The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he met other African-American physicians, like pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, M.D. and cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins, M.D., that served as mentors and encouraged him. He said he now tries to do the same for minority students at UF and “let them know I’m here from day one.”
Winston T. Richards, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of acute care surgery at UF, was one of eight children and his father, born in Trinidad, was a university professor.
“(My father) knew that education and training were the keys to changing your situation,” he said.
After receiving his medical degree from Penn State University, Richards went into private practice in North Carolina. His encounters with patients there reinforced in him the importance of listening and connecting with patients, no matter what their situation or background.
“That work experience really helped me understand that need for diversity,” he said.
Donna Parker, M.D., a pediatrician and the UF College of Medicine’s assistant dean for minority affairs, grew up on a farm in Jamaica and was one of 11 children.
Her parents’ education ended in elementary school, but they emphasized the importance of education to their children. Parker’s dad died suddenly of a heart attack when she was 11 years old, after being misdiagnosed with gastrointestinal problems, and she made up her mind to become a physician.
“Some of it was just hard work, some of it was blessings,” Parker said of her accomplishments.
Graduating from the UF College of Medicine in 1990, she worked for five years at the Alachua County Health Department, then spent 10 years at Eastside Community Practice. Both jobs involved often caring for underserved children and she got a first-hand look at the challenges their families faced in terms of access to care, finances and transportation.
As assistant dean for minority affairs, she also helps recruit underrepresented minorities to the UF College of Medicine.
“Both jobs are passions of mine,” Parker said. “The reason for diversity is to reach health equity.”
Abi Adewumi, B.D.S., an assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at the UF College of Dentistry, said she didn’t experience racial discrimination until she was an adult, studying in London.
Born in London, Adewumi returned to her parent’s native Nigeria at age 7, where her dad was a lawyer and her mother was a businesswoman.
After completing dental school in Nigeria, Adewumi went to London for postgraduate training in oral surgery and took a job as a phlebotomist, drawing blood from patients, to help pay for her exams. She said she experienced both culture shock and racism in England.
“Very early on, I realized there were double standards,” Adewumi said. “So I suddenly saw myself in a different light.”
In 2004, she moved from London to Gainesville where she serves as faculty mentor to the college’s Student National Dental Association, a group for minority dental students. Adewumi said she has tried to encourage more minority students to consider the field of dentistry.
“I’m thankful that along the way I met people that encouraged that passion within me,” she said.