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Alumnae Stories

Spelman’s Medical Pioneer: Juvonda Hodge, C'92

November 2019

Juvonda HodgeAs a Spelman sophomore and junior in the early 1990s, Juvonda Hodge volunteered at Grady Memorial Hospital working with newborn babies and talking to teen mothers. Twenty-seven years later, the New Jersey native is still treating babies but she does it as the assistant medical director in Grady’s acclaimed Burn Center.

Hodge believes she is the first-ever surgeon to graduate from Spelman College. “I’ve not met a Spelman woman who has become a surgeon who is older than me,” she said. “Some people have come after me, but before me, I’ve not met anyone I know. I’m probably the first.”

“There is at least one more person I can remember who came before Juvonda -- Ruby Alice Skinner, Class of 89,” said Barbara Bell, Ph.D., former director of the Health Careers program. “But, I can remember Juvonda being a wonderfully conscientious student.”

Spelman's Impact 

Hodge grew up in a predominantly White neighborhood, which is why her parents wanted to make sure she had a historically Black college experience. “When I went to Spelman, I wasn’t the only Black kid. I wasn’t an anomaly,” she recalled. “I was not the smartest one here. There were a lot of smart women here, and I liked the feeling of sisterhood I got here.”

The 1992 graduate remembers being inspired by activist Angela Davis and other riveting lecturers during the required weekly Sisters Chapel sessions. “They brought us messages about being a strong Black woman, which I would not have gotten at a PWI,” she said. “Exposure to those kinds of things were priceless; iron sharpens iron. That’s why everyone in my class is now doing fabulous, fabulous things.”

So, too, is Hodge.

Grady Memorial Hospital is the largest in the state of Georgia and the public hospital for the city of Atlanta. It is the fifth-largest public hospital in the United States. Hodge has been the top burn unit surgeon there for the past five years, following a 13-year stint at USA Health University Hospital in Mobile, Alabama. Her “first paying job” out of Rutgers University Medical School was for five years with Howard University Hospital.

“I was the first Black female surgeon they ever had in Mobile,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to be a surgeon. I was never exposed to it. I’d never seen a Black female surgeon nor a Black male surgeon, to be honest, but Spelman gave me the mindset to know that I could do it.”

Now, burn victims look at Hodge in awe. Black female surgeons remain a rarity. To compare the numbers, 61.6% of physicians and surgeons are male, according to Data USA, while 37.5% are female. Skewed differently, 69.8% of physicians and surgeons are White, 21.1% are Asian, and 5.82% are Black, according to the 2017 data.

Serving Those in Need 

“I’ve always been interested in serving underserved, underprivileged and underinsured populations, which is why I’m not at a fancier hospital making a lot more money,” Hodge said. “I like working with this population. When someone sees [someone who] looks like them, the pride on their face says, ‘Wow, she’s a doctor.’ And, you still get that even today, which to me is sad.”

Hodge admits her race and gender also engender skepticism, though it doesn’t dismay her.

“Excellence of performance will transform any artificial barriers created by man,” she remembered being taught. “Just be good, just be excellent. That was always drilled into us as surgeons. Do your best.”

Elnora Williams, a child life specialist and a member of Hodge’s team for the past five years, opined that Hodge is “extra special” in her treatment of burn victims.

“It takes someone who is straight from heaven to work with burn patients because a lot of people don’t hear about the tragedy and trauma that comes from burns,” Williams explained. “She can take care of the 5-week-old as well as she can take care of the 69-year-old. Her knowledge of burn care [is very vast]. Dr. Hodge is very passionate about her work. She is also very compassionate when it comes to her patients, and she advocates for them.”

Burn victims are transferred to Hodge’s care from all over Georgia, east Alabama, North Carolina and east Tennessee. Most of them are flame, chemical and scald burns. House and grease fires are common causes. Thirty percent of her patient case load is pediatrics.

“I got into burns unexpectedly, but you never know what places God will put you into,” she said.

There is a lot of taxing critical care involved with burn victims, she admitted. “You get used to it. To me it’s nothing.

Handling Critically Injured Patients 

“I like seeing the patient from start to finish,” Hodge continued in the busy burn unit’s outpatient office. “You develop a relationship with the patients because some of them you see for months. I had one patient here for a year. You know them; they know you. Watching them get better and getting back to their normal state of life is very satisfying.”

Losing a patient weighs heavily on her professionally and personally. “Some patients will affect you, and some patients you will remember the rest of your life.”

Surgeons hold a special status with the medical profession. “She’s really an inspiration of what a doctor and a surgeon should be,” said Shelley Anderson, a physician assistant who has worked with Hodge since 2017.

In the medical profession, surgeons are the most revered physicians. “As far as the hierarchy goes, definitely surgeons are considered on top as far as doctors are concerned,” added Anderson.

Working in the Grady burn unit is a “very emotionally taxing roller coaster” ride that Anderson said Hodge handles expertly. Outside of her of world as “Dr. Hodge,” she exhales.

“Now, on my down time, I just want to be known as Juvonda for people who really know me,” said Hodge. “I’m called a doctor all day long. You want to keep your perspective, and that’s what keeps me human.”

Hodge is active in the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, and had two Spelman students shadow her last semester from the school’s pre-health program. 

Juvonda Hodge
By Maynard Eaton, as seen in The Spelman Messenger.