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Spelman College Healthcare Heroes

Spelman's Healthcare Heroes

Spelman Messenger Fall 2019Combating gun violence, tackling the AIDS/HIV crisis, addressing health disparities in Black and marginalized communities –– these are just some of the ways Spelman alumnae have forged their careers in STEM with their passions for social change.

The “Healing Hands” cover of the Spelman College Messenger features Drs. Loren Robinson Abebe, Hazel D. Dean, Juvonda Hodge, Lezli Levene Harvell, and Deborah Prothrow-Stith, who are examples of the endless possibility that amasses when one pairs their “Choice to Change the World” with medicine and health. In their respective careers, these Spelman women are shaping and shifting the ways a STEM-related liberal arts education can alleviate health inequity, analyze the social and structural determinants that affect health, cure diseases within at-risk communities, and increase Black women’s representation in healthcare and medicine.

Each of these alumnae have made innovative changes in their fields, some even shifting the organizational structure of their disciplines to promote “pipelines” and opportunities for more women of color to enter these professions. Passionate and ardent about their work, their dreams of being healthcare professionals and researchers began at a young age. As you will learn, they brought their budding interests in the sciences to Spelman, which blossomed into full-fledged careers and leading initiatives.

These women are being featured for their timeless work and dedication to the upliftment of their communities both within and outside of their careers. Through philanthropic endeavors, promoting equal access to health services, regardless of one’s race, socioeconomic or health status, or seeking to understand how institutional racism and oppression affect health disparities, these Spelman sisters truly represent selflessness and advocacy for the greater good. 

Union of Social Justice and Medicine: Loren Robinson Abebe, M.D., C'2003

by Kia Smith | November 01, 2019

Spelman Trustee Loren RobinsonThree weeks after becoming a new mother, Loren Robinson Abebe, M.D., C’2003, found herself at the U.S. Capitol testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee. The congressional hearing focused on how social disparities and racial inequities result in increased maternal mortality rates for African American mothers. Her appearance at the Capitol was a crowning achievement in her dual passions of medicine and social justice — fields she didn’t always think could operate in tandem.

“I wanted to be a doctor from a very early age, and then I got to Spelman and completely changed my mind,” explained Abebe, whose parents both work in pediatric medicine. “When I got to college, I became interested in a lot of things besides the basic sciences, like social justice, and international and foreign aid.”

A self-described “firebrand,” Abebe found herself participating in protests and organizing efforts. “I thought these other things weren’t compatible with the medical field,” she said.

Marrying Social Justice and Medicine

While Abebe felt her passion for social justice pulling her away from a career in medicine, her academic adviser, Soraya Mekerta, Ph.D., associate professor of French, helped her thread social justice into her love of science.

“As I learned about independence movements and roles that women played in all of these fierce social justice movements throughout the world, [Dr. Mekerta] helped me learn about Doctors Without Borders and how there are organizations where physicians haven’t lost their fight for social justice and can combine that passion with providing medical care,” she said.

Today, social justice is naturally integrated into Abebe’s dayto-day work as the deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The position allows her to combat social disparities and systemic inequities that negatively impact the health and wellness of Pennsylvania residents.

“I do things like go to D.C. and testify before Congress, but it’s also making sure that our staff knows what institutional racism is and what they can do as individuals to address it, making sure our grantees are addressing these issues in their local organizations,” Abebe explained.

Making Mentoring Matter

A dedicated mentor, Abebe is committed to enabling others the opportunity to make a social impact through medicine. “We have responsibilities to mentor the young people coming behind us,” said Abebe, who always wears her white doctor’s coat when practicing medicine “because when patients’ kids or grandkids see this Black woman in a white coat, that makes a difference.”

Committed to making sure the College’s premed students receive the support and guidance they need to succeed, Abebe encourages other alumnae to give back to students with ambitions of working in healthcare.

“We have thousands of alumnae who are in the healthcare field. I would ask them to specifically think about giving back to Spelman in the health-related fields, so young women who are coming through can have the support they need to be able to get to the next step,” she said. “We have a responsibility to do that.”

Serving Spelman as Trustee

Abebe currently serves as a member of the Spelman College board of trustees. In 2018, she completed the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, which provided her the opportunity to meet and learn from Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Abebe has received more than 30 awards, including the 2013 Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society, University of North Carolina chapter; the UNC School of Medicine Henry C. Fordham Teaching Award; the National Med-Peds Resident Association Howard Kubiner Award; and the 2012 National Medical Association’s Top 40 Under 40 award. In 2016, she was named to the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 under 40 Leaders in Minority Health, received the National Medical Association’s Rising Star Award, and was elected to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Loren Robinson Abebe
By Kia Smith, as seen in The Spelman Messenger 

Spelman Student Studies in GreeceAccording to a National Science Foundation report, Spelman College is ranked as the No. 1 baccalaureate institution of origin for Black Ph.D.s in science and engineering. Also, according to the Spelman College Fact Book, 34% of the College’s student body pursued majors in biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, physics, environmental science or engineering (dual degree program), and 25% of graduates received degrees in STEM disciplines. To honor some of the many STEM graduates of Spelman, we have comprised a list of healthcare professionals to highlight their achievements. These healthcare professionals include administrators, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, psychiatrists, and physicians who dedicate their lives to elevating the physical, mental and spiritual well being of others.

Expand the arrow to the right of each healthcare category below to view listings. Alumnae whose names are hyperlinked are also speakers or panelists at the Spelman College Heathcare Summit on Oct. 24-25.

Add to Our List of Healthcare Heroes

There are hundreds of Spelman College healthcare stars who are changing the world. If you are featured on this list compiled by the Spelman Messenger staff, we celebrate you and your accomplishments, as well as thank you for your contributions to providing healthcare to those in need. Feel free to share your information with us using the form on this page.
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We want to hear from Spelman alumnae in the healthcare industry. Please let us know what you are doing now and how your experience at Spelman informed your choices.   

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Healthcare Summit Speakers

Union of Social Justice and Medicine: Loren Robinson Abebe, M.D., C'2003

by Kia Smith | November 01, 2019

Spelman Trustee Loren RobinsonThree weeks after becoming a new mother, Loren Robinson Abebe, M.D., C’2003, found herself at the U.S. Capitol testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee. The congressional hearing focused on how social disparities and racial inequities result in increased maternal mortality rates for African American mothers. Her appearance at the Capitol was a crowning achievement in her dual passions of medicine and social justice — fields she didn’t always think could operate in tandem.

“I wanted to be a doctor from a very early age, and then I got to Spelman and completely changed my mind,” explained Abebe, whose parents both work in pediatric medicine. “When I got to college, I became interested in a lot of things besides the basic sciences, like social justice, and international and foreign aid.”

A self-described “firebrand,” Abebe found herself participating in protests and organizing efforts. “I thought these other things weren’t compatible with the medical field,” she said.

Marrying Social Justice and Medicine

While Abebe felt her passion for social justice pulling her away from a career in medicine, her academic adviser, Soraya Mekerta, Ph.D., associate professor of French, helped her thread social justice into her love of science.

“As I learned about independence movements and roles that women played in all of these fierce social justice movements throughout the world, [Dr. Mekerta] helped me learn about Doctors Without Borders and how there are organizations where physicians haven’t lost their fight for social justice and can combine that passion with providing medical care,” she said.

Today, social justice is naturally integrated into Abebe’s dayto-day work as the deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The position allows her to combat social disparities and systemic inequities that negatively impact the health and wellness of Pennsylvania residents.

“I do things like go to D.C. and testify before Congress, but it’s also making sure that our staff knows what institutional racism is and what they can do as individuals to address it, making sure our grantees are addressing these issues in their local organizations,” Abebe explained.

Making Mentoring Matter

A dedicated mentor, Abebe is committed to enabling others the opportunity to make a social impact through medicine. “We have responsibilities to mentor the young people coming behind us,” said Abebe, who always wears her white doctor’s coat when practicing medicine “because when patients’ kids or grandkids see this Black woman in a white coat, that makes a difference.”

Committed to making sure the College’s premed students receive the support and guidance they need to succeed, Abebe encourages other alumnae to give back to students with ambitions of working in healthcare.

“We have thousands of alumnae who are in the healthcare field. I would ask them to specifically think about giving back to Spelman in the health-related fields, so young women who are coming through can have the support they need to be able to get to the next step,” she said. “We have a responsibility to do that.”

Serving Spelman as Trustee

Abebe currently serves as a member of the Spelman College board of trustees. In 2018, she completed the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, which provided her the opportunity to meet and learn from Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Abebe has received more than 30 awards, including the 2013 Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society, University of North Carolina chapter; the UNC School of Medicine Henry C. Fordham Teaching Award; the National Med-Peds Resident Association Howard Kubiner Award; and the 2012 National Medical Association’s Top 40 Under 40 award. In 2016, she was named to the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 under 40 Leaders in Minority Health, received the National Medical Association’s Rising Star Award, and was elected to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Loren Robinson Abebe
By Kia Smith, as seen in The Spelman Messenger