Last Friday, as the Career Day Keynote Speaker for Foxcroft’s Virtual Reunion, Andrea walked rapt students, alumnae, and faculty through her amazing journey from an eight-year-old hopeful doctor to a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General), then the VA Medical Center in Washington, DC, and finally to her current professional homes as Director of Diversity and Faculty Development, MGH Gastroenterology at Mass General and Associate Dean for Student and Multicultural Affairs; Director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs at Harvard Medical School.
After Foxcroft, which “was the first place I've been, other than my family, where it was really good to be smart,” Andrea attended Brown University to study psychology. While there, she joined and then led the Black Premedical Society, noting that their work in the community and the inspirational stories she heard from individuals who were underrepresented in medicine were an important part of her life.
Upon receiving her degree with honors from Brown University, Andrea enrolled at Harvard Medical School, another pivotal point in her life, but one that she almost didn’t take advantage of.
“I almost didn't go because I didn't like Boston,” she explains. “I didn't like what Boston represented. You have to remember this was in 1984; Harvard Medical School hadn't been diversified for very long. Medicine was still largely male, and Boston was known as a very difficult city for people of color who had gone through a tumultuous time in the late 1970s around busing and discrimination in the school system, and I never wanted to be in Boston, but I decided to come because of Harvard Medical School.”
Following Harvard, Andrea did her residency and gastrointestinal training at Mass General, as one of very few women and even fewer women of color, “We began to push for equity really against a void. There were no minority faculty on staff that were teaching us, there were very few other minority residents, and we could see that there was different treatment for some of the minority patients.”
As she was finishing her training, she was asked to stay on faculty, which solidified her interest in medical education and accreditation. “So I was pushing for change, but I was also changing myself,” she explained. “I was the first black individual to train in internal medicine and GI [gastrointestinal] training — or any training — and stay on faculty. So when I stayed on faculty, talk about being alone, there were very few people who looked like me or shared my perspective. But slowly, as we began to galvanize with the leadership and talk about ways to diversify, things began to change.”
During this time, Andrea received her master’s in public health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and became associate director of the Multicultural Affairs Office at Mass General, eventually moving from there to the VA Medical Center in Washington, DC, and ultimately back to Boston where she serves in her current dual roles with Harvard and Mass General.
As her presentation wound down, Andrea shared these parting thoughts, “Finally, I want to end by saying that, you know, it has been an interesting journey to go from being one of the few to be willing to break through some of the barriers of Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital, but also to now be in a position to influence some of those same systems that have kept these numbers very, very low and to think about them in much broader ways than thinking about myself.”
She ended with this poignant quote from James Baldwin, one of her favorite authors, “Not everything that's faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it's faced.” Andrea is not one to shy away from the hard and important work of changing systems not just for herself, but for those who would come after. She has been and continues to use her voice for good in medicine and medical training, and we are grateful that she shared her inspiring story with us.
Andrea’s talk kicked off an afternoon full of stimulating sessions for students conducted by alumnae who graciously gave their time to share personal stories about their professional paths during eight different breakout sessions. These women, representing classes ranging from 1980 to 2016, hail from a broad variety of fields, including a senior manager of communications and public relations at Yelp, an electrical engineer for Chevron, the Senior VP of Design at Hollister, a certified nurse-midwife, and more. Students attended two sessions and, no doubt learned a lot about the myriad possibilities for life after Foxcroft.
Many thanks to the remarkable women who gave their time and to the Office of Institutional Advancement, especially Katherine Murphy, for organizing the event.