We chat with Dr. Aletha Maybank about her mission to create health education and equality in under-served communities. ...
By// Starrene Rhett Rocque
Perhaps people wouldn’t put off going to the doctor if more physicians were like Dr. Aletha Maybank, who seems more like the home girl next door. Currently, Dr. Maybank is an Assistant Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Hygiene (serving the Brooklyn District Public health office) but that’s just one of a seriously long list of accomplishments and titles held by the progressive MD. Maybank has a column with our sister site, EBONY.com, where she dishes on a new medical topic bi-weekly; she’s a contributor to ARISE TV; is co-founder of the We Are Doc McStuffins Movement, which celebrates Black female doctors; and publishes her own blog, On Call in the City, where she explores various aspects of how to live a healthy life but from a down-to-earth perspective.
Maybank, who is on a mission to improve the quality of health in underserved communities, is never too busy to chat about her passion so that’s where we come in. JETmag.com caught up with her to chat about some of her undertakings in improving not just health in the Black community, but also how we view doctors.
Explain your journey from medical school to your early career, to how you ended up in city government.
I’m a pediatrician by training and when I finished residency I knew I didn’t want to practice medicine day in and day out, so I worked at a hospital for two years in the neonatal intensive care unit taking care of babies. Even though I learned a lot, I also spent my time figuring out exactly what it was that I wanted to do as a physician. I remember that when I was at Johns Hopkins for undergrad, I took a lot of public health courses and I really liked them. Public health talks about all the things that influences a person’s health – culture, race, and social issues. Public health broadens the conversation around what really impacts and influences the person’s health. So remembering that and wanting to go back to that conversation, I did a second residency in public health. During that time, I was offered the position to be the Director of the Office Of Minority Health. So I’m board certified in pediatrics and preventive medicine public health.
You also have a blog, On Call in the City. It’s one of the rare medical blogs that isn’t stuffy and boring.
That’s interesting feedback to hear because what I’ve noticed is that health is not a particularly sexy topic. I always wonder, “How do you make it so that people will pay attention, especially the generation from 20-45?” So you’re right. It’s hard to find good communicators that connect and who are actually relevant. My goal is answer the question of “How do I tap into my own personal image of how I look and what I bring to the table?” I know that I’m not what’s expected of what a doctor should be in many ways, but this is who I am and I keep very real to that. I look to bring out the best so that I can communicate a health message that’s relevant and sexy to people. That’s very important to me and that’s the whole gist behind On Call in the City. I understand that people are very visual and that’s why I do more of the video thing on the blog.
You’re also responsible for the We Are Doc McStuffins campaign, which draws attention to brown girl doctors. Talk about the inspiration behind it.
A doctor named Myeisha Taylor, who was in Texas, has a daughter who was watching Doc McStuffins and her daughter said, “Look mommy, she’s brown like me.” Myeisha then started to send pictures and collages to Disney Junior, pictures of Black female doctors from across the country. It was in appreciation and support, she was just trying to show that there are Black female doctors across the country and we’re thankful for seeing our image on major media. From that Myeisha ended up reaching out to people and then people started reaching out to her, and in the process of her reaching out to people, she contacted me.. She asked if I would be interested and willing to think about creating an organization around this growing movement. As we were calling people, we found that Black female doctors are only 1.9% of the whole physician population. African Americans are actually only 3% of the physician population, which is tremendously low and shameful. So, from this outreach we got the sense that Black female doctors are isolated and spread out across the country. We need support and want support so we created the Artemis Medical Society which is focused on just that: supporting the Black female physicians. We’ve even thought about eventually having an advocacy arm down the line.
And from that move you basically became the embodiment of Black excellence in a sense.
From that Disney invited us to their headquarters in Burbank, CA. in November 2012 and we met with the writer for Doc McStuffins. Disney picked three of us to do media features for Black History Month. It was the first time Disney ever did that –the videos are online and they are of me, Myeisha, and another doctor speaking about what we do. It’s been airing since February and they haven’t stopped airing it. I have cousins who are in Antigua who saw it. It’s very powerful when your family where you came from sees you on international TV. It’s really amazing. The hard work that they had to put into place for me to eventually get on international TV has caused me to reflect on my family and where we’ve come.
Dr. Aletha Maybank is on Facebook and Twitter @DrAlethaMaybank.