Feb. 17, 2022 — Having grown up surrounded by different cultures in Turkey and the Philippines because of her father’s career in the U.S. Air Force, Cheryl Hardin, M.D. ’87, always knew she wanted to surround herself with people from diverse backgrounds throughout her life and career.
Over the next several decades, her experiences in medical school and career in pediatrics would allow her to do just that, traveling to Ghana multiple times and providing medical care to underserved populations in Texas.
Hardin said she always had an affinity for children, first acting as a doctor to her dolls, and later during her first job as a babysitter.
“It was a natural fit and I had a knack for working with children,” she said. “During high school and my undergraduate program, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
During her studies at the UF College of Medicine, Hardin said she had wonderful experiences learning from esteemed pediatric professors like Desmond Schatz, M.D., and the late Frank L. DeBusk, M.D., and met lifelong friends in Gainesville. She also traveled multiple times — first during medical school, then inresidency and during her first years in practice — to Ghana to learn from and assist pediatric health systems that had access to far fewer resources than most American health care systems have.
“Many of my diagnostic and intuitive skills as a physician were truly developed in Ghana because you have to rely on these more when there is not as much technology and machines around to help with that process,” Hardin said. “My experiences there made me a better physician, and now I realize how many tools we have available in some countries that are a luxury in others.”
After medical school, Hardin completed her residency in Texas and remained in the Houston area throughout the rest of her career. Serendipitously, she also met her Ghanaian husband, Godfried, while in Houston.
Hardin’s career caring for children was bookended at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she began as a resident and later returned to lead a community care clinic. In between, she worked for a federally qualified health center and in a historically underserved community to provide medical care to some of Houston’s youngest citizens.
At AccessHealth, she worked alongside other physicians, dentists, mental health professionals and social workers providing holistic care to vulnerable populations. Many of her patients included immigrants to America and residents who didn’t have insurance or regular access to health care.
“It meant a lot to me that a child could walk into my practice and receive care regardless of whether they could pay,” Hardin said.
Later, her former church partnered with Texas Children’s Hospital to increase access to primary care in zip codes where practices weren’t readily accessible. Over the past 15 years, she led a practice at a Texas Children’s Community Cares clinic, retiring in fall 2021.
Whereas physicians are known for their white coats, Hardin’s patients knew her from the colorful coats she sported during visits. Some of Hardin’s favorite coats were vibrant orange and yellow.
During a retirement celebration for Hardin in November, she learned that NCQA Patient-Centered medical home where she served thousands of patients would be named in her honor.
“It still blows my mind,” she said. “Of course, you can’t do this without a great team, and I have been fortunate to work with many medical assistants, nurses, physician colleagues and management there who keep everything running smoothly. My hope is that it will continue to be a center of excellence and the commitment to high-quality pediatric care will be there for years to come.”
In retirement, Hardin, who has three grown children and four grandchildren, plans to split her time between Texas and Ghana with her husband.
“Though I’m retired now, I plan to continue being a voice for children and serving them on new levels,” Hardin said. “That will always be an important part of my life.”