Dr. Francis’s legacy of medical professionalism

Dr. Francis was a medical genius and a pioneer in the treatment of sickle-cell anemia. Back in the day when the diagnosis of sickle-cell condemned most children to death before reaching adulthood, Dr. Francis was the first to urge treatments allowing patients “to pursue their education, earn a living and rear their families.” Today, sickle-cell anemia patients can live full and fulfilling lives.

Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette died March 28, 2016 and the highlights of her live’s work are described in an April 7 Times article. In 1946, she was only 19 when, already having completed her MS in Chemistry at Columbia University, she started her medical studies at Yale, as the schools’ second-ever black woman to enroll. Decades before the civil rights movement, the young physician-to-be urged African-Americans to apply to medical schools across the nation, and, according to the Times, later said of her white class-mates: “We were a close-knit, supportive group.”

Given my own past experience of treating patients, as a student member of clinical teams in Stanford and Harvard, I cannot help but have the highest degree of respect for Dr. Francis’s work. According to the Times, she first encountered sickle cell anemia as Michael Reese Hospital’s first back medical intern in Chicago, a city which was seeing a steady growth of the black migration from the South in 1950s and ’60s. She immediately turned to testing all her relatives at home for sickle-cell anemia, and went to establish the Sickle Cell disease foundation for the education and treatment of the disease by the time she started private practice in New York City. By 1970’s she was appointed by President Nixon to a White House committee to pass federal legislation allocating federal funding for screening and treatment of sickle-cell anemia on the national level.

Even after a decades-long distinguished career as a pediatrician, Dr. Francis refused to rest on her laurels. When her former pediatrics patients wanted to keep her as her doctor, at 52, she entered an internal medicine residency and a hematology fellowship at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, according to the Times.

It is no secret that Dr. Francis lived in a world that was turned up-side-down by the aftermaths of the Great Depression, the end of the World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and 9/11. Amidst the chaos and against the turbulence of her times, Dr. Francis’s progress as a physician combating disease and helping her patients was unwavering, unrelenting and singularly focused on improving and extending life. By the time of her death at 89, Dr. Francis has built a legacy of professionalism that will inspire generations to come. Her work illustrates the highest values of medicine both as a career and as a service to the human kind.