As head of the College of Medicine’s Office for Diversity and Health Equity, Donna M. Parker, M.D. ’90, serves as a role model and mentor for other Black and African American female students, trainees and young professionals.
Growing up surrounded by a supportive family and teachers in Jericho, Jamaica, a country where she was a member of the majority, allowed her to have confidence in herself and her abilities when she came to the U.S. and entered a predominantly white university and medical field after high school, she said.
While interviewing to attend medical school at UF, she had her first interaction with a female physician, professor emeritus Eloise Harman, M.D. And among her UF medical school classmates, she found other future Black and African American woman physicians.
“I credit my upbringing for helping me successfully navigate a space where people who look like me were absent, except for my peers,” said Parker, an assistant professor of pediatrics and associate dean for diversity and health equity at the College of Medicine. “However, there were many faculty, especially those who had worked to improve health care in other countries, who were great teachers and role models and practiced inclusivity.”
Having support from the late Willie Sanders, the first Black faculty member in the College of Medicine and the director of what was then called the Office of Minority Relations, was the main reason she said she later chose to accept a leadership role in the college to focus on diversity, inclusion and health equity.
“Role models matter,” said Parker, noting that Sanders was the only Black faculty member she met during medical school and residency. “Teaching and mentoring students to become strong leaders and advocates is very rewarding, and I know many of them in turn will also lead and mentor. Some are already filling those roles. Having teachers who look like and who have had similar experiences to students provides a sense of belonging to those students, allowing them to be their best selves and to become the best physicians.”