Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, First Black Woman Appointed Dean of Predominantly White Medical School

Written by Jae Jones

, sister of Diana Ross of The Supremes, became the first African-American to be appointed dean of a predominantly white medical school. Ross was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in a housing project. She faced discrimination as a young African-American woman. Growing up Ross and her sister found a love for business and performing with their brothers and sisters in the church choir. However, while Diana Ross pursued a career in music that eventually led her to celebrity status, her sister Barbara Ross set out to accomplish her goals in the sciences.

Barbara Ross began studying in 1960 at Wayne State University in Detroit. It was during this time that the Civil Rights movement was just on the rise, there were very few schools, let alone medical schools that were offering admission to minority students. Students were not receiving any type of federal funding at that time. The schools medical advisor did not believe that women should be doctors, and so she declined to authorize Ross’s request to study human anatomy as her major. However, Ross went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry in 1965. She abandoned her dream of becoming a doctor and went on to train as a teacher.

opened a school of osteopathic medicine in Pontiac, a Detroit suburb, and so Ross applied and was accepted. She was a single mother at the time and needed money to help pay for her tuition. So, Ross sold her house and moved in with her mother.

After graduating from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1973, Dr. Ross-Lee ran a solo family practice in Detroit until 1984, when she joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a consultant on education in the health professions. Since graduation Dr. Ross has served on several medical committees. In 1993, Dr. Ross-Lee became the first woman dean of a United States medical school.

According to the National Library of Medicine, during Dr. Ross’ tenure there, she reformulated the entire course of study, and drafted a women’s curriculum, earning a reputation as a “change agent.” “It is my goal,” she said, “to establish a seamless continuum of education rather than all of the fragments that we have now; to be able to incorporate learning strategies as opposed to the old memorize-and-regurgitate methodology; and to train a physician who is just not technically skilled but who is also capable of being responsible and accountable for the health status of the person he or she treats.” Dr. Ross has received many honors and awards; she was awarded the “Magnificent 7” Award presented in 1993 by Business and Professional Women/USA. Read more here.



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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