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Black Female Doctors Share Their Stories 
Lisa M. Harris, DO ’07, FAAFP

Standing on her Shoulders: Celebrating Meta L. Christy, DO, and African American Alumnae Trailblazers

Lisa M. Harris, DO ’07, FAAFP

Medical Student Site Director, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital; Assistant Professor, Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland

Artistic portrait of Black female physician Lisa Harris, DO“I was over twenty years old before I saw my first Black female physician. I often call myself a statistical anomaly. … When I think of my parents—where they came from, what was offered to them—I could not have predicted my presence as a faculty member at a medical school, teaching residents, doing family medicine. I certainly believe in divine intervention and that medicine and teaching is my calling, but it’s grounded with grit, hard work, dedication, and allyship. … In Army JROTC, my instructor was a retired colonel. I had decided I wanted to be an EMT—the job would pay the bills. But he pushed me. He said, ‘That’s not enough. You need to strive higher. You have more potential.’ And that conversation and the time he spent with me, that changed my trajectory. … I decided to attend Florida A&M University, an HBCU, and was awarded an Army ROTC Scholarship. This was the only time in my life I was a majority. HBCUs’ existence is pivotal to the development of Black professionals. … At PCOM, a mentor to most of us was Leonard Johnson [DO ’64], also a graduate of Florida A&M. He held our feet to the fire; he expected greatness. … You’re taught as a Black person that the system is the system. You’re always going to have to work twice as hard to get half the credit—doesn’t matter whether you’re tired, whether your intrinsic worth or value feels diminished. I experienced a fair amount of burnout when it came to leadership in clinical roles. … Microaggressions and macroaggressions are stress mediators. When you get stressed, the cortisol level rises, and can affect your behaviors and performance. Underrepresented minorities [URM] experience chronic micro- and macroaggressions; they may never return to baseline. I agree with the thesis that this allostatic load leads to physician burnout for URM. The increased allostatic load can look like empathy fatigue, diminished educational or professional performance, etc. … Race can be the elephant in the room. ‘I don’t see race’ to me means you don’t see me. And we can’t have a conversation about it. … Most recently my work has addressed underrepresentation in medicine, through cross-cultural mentorship. How do you mentor someone? How do you have conversations that feel uncomfortable? It’s really evaluating yourself and saying, ‘What are the things in my life that shaped my opinions, my beliefs, my behaviors?’ This is what’s called a cultural autobiography. When you have these conversations in a nonthreatening environment, all these things start to open up. … I’m a unicorn, but also I’m a beacon, so someone else doesn’t have to wait until they’re twenty to see a doctor who looks like them.”

as told to Janice Fisher

Standing on her Shoulders

Read more stories from African American female physicians, leaders and health professionals.

About Digest Magazine

Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.