An innovative researcher and educator in the field of women’s health, Dr. Veronica T. Mallett will never forget how her father rescued her pre-med studies from a college professor who told her she didn’t have what it took to be a doctor.
She’d begun her studies at Barnard College in New York, full of enthusiasm and confidence, but in the years of Affirmative Action, people looked at her questionably – “As though I didn’t belong. I began to question whether I did,” Mallett said.
Exposed to wealth at a level she’d never seen and paired with a roommate who’d made a perfect score on the ACT, Mallett, a product of a magnet school with several African-American role models, felt even more insecure – but indignant, too – after the minority pre-med students were called to a meeting with a chemistry teacher. She told them they should forget about being doctors. “You people,” the teacher said, “don’t have the problem-solving skills.”
You people? she thought.
Her confidence bruised, Mallett told her father about the encounter. His advice? He told her to imagine the teacher on the toilet with her pants around her legs.
“That really helped take her power away,” Mallett said.
She went on to acquire her Bachelor of Arts degree at Barnard in 1979 and then her medical degree at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in 1983. She’s become a nationally- and internationally-recognized professional for her work in the treatment of urinary incontinence and genital organ prolapse, as well as her work to shrink health disparities among minorities.
She’s reached a lot of firsts, including the first African-American woman in the country to be fellowship-trained in reconstructive pelvic surgery. She is also the first female chair of a clinical department at the University of Tennessee, a school established in 1911. In 2011, she founded the obstetrics and gynecology chair at Texas Tech University Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, where she also made strides in bettering health for Hispanic women and families. She did this by developing a new medical school and health science center on the border with Mexico, addressing a critical physician shortage in the area.
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