March 25, 2021 – Sometimes, medical expertise isn’t enough to produce the best patient outcomes. A bond of trust and mutual understanding between provider and patient can positively impact a patient’s barriers to care, affording patients the confidence to take ownership of their own health journey.
UF maternal-fetal medicine fellow Kendra Sylvester-Armstrong, M.D. ’14, the first African-American graduate of the UF College of Medicine to enter the UF OB-GYN residency program, understands the barriers to care and increased risks many women of minority backgrounds face in this country. African-American women experience an increased risk of maternal mortality, and their babies face risk of pre-term delivery and complications of prematurity. That’s why she is passionate about building relationships with her patients that surpass basic medical care.
“When I walk into a patient’s room, I can sometimes see their eyes light up when they see their doctor looks like them. They know, ‘My doctor understands me.’ That feeling alone can help get a patient to come to all their prenatal appointments and build the trust needed to mitigate further complications of pregnancy,” Sylvester-Armstrong says. “All patients want expertise, but they also want someone who can understand and rationalize with them.”
Sylvester-Armstrong says part of why she entered the field of medicine is to “bridge the gap” between medical practitioners and the African-American community, the latter of whom have experienced more than a century of discriminatory medical practices and a lack of access to care compared to their white counterparts. She believes “education is key to living a long life,” and that education occurs when a rapport is created between patient and provider.
“My family is from Dominica in the Caribbean, where many people think of the hospital as merely a place where you go to die. I wanted to change that perspective for them, and the best way I knew how was to enter a career in medicine,” she says.
As a fellow in the UF maternal-fetal medicine program, Sylvester-Armstrong also has the opportunity to educate the next generation of physicians. A winner of the Resident Teacher of the Year Award and the Society of Teaching Scholars Outstanding Resident Educator Award, Sylvester-Armstrong makes sure her learners gain one piece of knowledge from each patient interaction.
“After seeing a patient with medical students and residents, we do one- or two-minute ‘doc talks,’” she says. “I ask them, what key information do you need to keep from this patient, and what can you do to build upon this information on your next patient encounter?”
Sylvester-Armstrong credits her own training at the UF College of Medicine for teaching her invaluable lessons that she imparts to her students and residents today. Though she describes medical school as attempting to “drink from a firehose,” the daunting tasks were made easier with mentorship from UF College of Medicine faculty in the UF Department of OB-GYN like Shireen Madani Sims, M.D., Dikea Roussos-Ross, M.D. and Robert Egerman, M.D.
“We had great mentors both in and out of the classroom. Dr. Kyle Rarey always told us, ‘Just keep swimming.’ I’ve never forgotten that. Today, I take setbacks with a grain of salt and keep moving on. When I needed to cry, Dr. Donna Parker (UF Health pediatrician and associate dean of diversity and health equity) was always there. She’s still a staple in my life,” Sylvester-Armstrong says. “Dr. Duff is the main reason I decided to become a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. His teaching style is something I truly aspire to every day, and his patients love him.”
Patrick Duff, M.D., associate dean for student affairs and director of the UF Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellowship Program has worked with Sylvester-Armstrong almost daily for seven years, and he says her skills and qualifications are boundless.
“I have admired her thoughtfulness, quiet intelligence, clinical competence, maturity, good humor, grace under fire and remarkable humility,” Duff says. “Kendra is an exceptional physician and an even better person.”
Sylvester-Armstrong looks forward to a long career in a field that allows her to be a shoulder to lean on for women often facing the most vulnerable and rewarding times in their existence: bringing a new life into this world. For Sylvester-Armstrong, bearing witness to these moments is equally as rewarding and life-changing for her.
“I look forward to one day being that seasoned physician who takes care of generations,” Sylvester-Armstrong says. “When you take care of one woman, you are indeed taking care of her entire family. And when you’re lucky, you become a part of that family. That’s what makes it all worth it.”