Jamaican Neurosurgeon Becomes First Black Woman To Become A Professor Of Neurosurgery In America
Dr. Odette Harris has overcame racial and gender bias to make history.
March 10, 2018 at 3:09 pm
Dr. Odette Harris has made history by becoming America’s first African-American female professor of neurosurgery at her alma mater Stanford University, according to The Stanford Daily.
As a young girl, the Jamaican-American doctor developed a love for the physical sciences and chemistry while studying at an all-girls high school.
That passion fueled her. She studied at Dartmouth University for her undergraduate degree, then went on to Stanford School of Medicine were she experienced a “turning point both in terms of gender and race.”
Studying at the prestigious school of medicine was difficult for her because Harris was the only black woman in the class of 1996. She was also one of only two women during her neurosurgical residency at Stanford University Medical Center. Race and gender have always been at the forefront.
“You’re black, you’re a woman, you’re in an all-white hospital – patients are constantly reminding you of that," Harris told Stanford Medicine last year. "I could list probably a hundred different experiences where I was asked to empty the garbage, or take out the trays, or clean out the toilets when I was just there to use the bathroom myself.”
As her career began to take off, her colleagues began to stand up for her and call patients out who tried to demean her.
“My [male] co-resident used to always say to the patient, ‘Actually, she’s our chief.’”
Harris has served as the director of brain injury in the department of neurosurgery and the associate chief of staff of polytrauma and rehabilitation at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Health Care System since 2009. During her illustrious career, she has a achieve many accolades including being named a Clayman Institute Faculty Research Fellow and winning the William P. Van Wagenen Fellowship Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Despite her challenges, she believes in diversity and what it could bring to the medical field.
“I do, but I also think that everybody has something. In answering the question, well, should I say, I do think women have more to offer? I think we’re then discounting the male perspective. My answer is that I feel like we all have that little slither, that unique thing that we bring, regardless of what we look like, regardless of what gender we are.”
Thank you Dr. Odette Harris for paving the way for all of us African American female academic surgeons. #InternationalWomansDay https://t.co/Sv1gw6OBhN— Linda Suleiman, MD (@LindaSuleimanMD) March 8, 2018