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Alumnae Stories

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

November 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