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Stanford Names Its First African American Female Neurosurgery Professor

Stanford Names Its First African American Female Neurosurgery Professor

 Photo via: Stanford University 

Dr. Odette Harris has just made history by becoming the first African American female neurosurgery professor at Stanford University. She is also just the second African American female neurosurgery professor in America, reports The Stanford Daily. Dr. Alexa Canady is the first. 

Since 2009, Dr. Harris has served as the director of brain injury in the department of neurosurgery and the associate chief of staff of polytrauma and rehabilitation at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Health Care System. Her appointment as a neurosurgery professor at Stanford was announced last Tuesday and she is the school's second female professor in the department.

In an interview with Stanford Medicine, Dr. Harris says she developed her love for physical science and chemistry during her years at an all-girls high school.

"All those clichés about girls schools and empowering girls and women, I think they’re true," she said.

Harris attended Dartmouth College for her undergraduate degree before enrolling in Stanford School of Medicine. It was there where she said she experienced a turning point in terms of race and gender as the only Black woman in the School of Medicine's 1996 class. 

Throughout her career, she says she’s experienced multiple incidents where patients have mistaken her for something other than a neurosurgeon.

"I could list probably a hundred different experiences where I was asked to empty the garbage or take out the trays, clean out the toilets, when I was just there to use the bathroom myself," she says. "My (male) co-resident used to always say to the patient, 'Actually, she’s our chief.'"

Thankfully, Harris didn't allow the discrimination she faced to deter her from pursuing her career goals. And while her latest position is a historical one, she admits that it's only further confirmation of how far the industry has to go with its diversity and inclusion efforts.

"You could only win by increasing the diversity, be it women, be it religious minorities, be it from the standpoint of race," she said. "That's a win, (because) you’re seeing it from different places."