This year, Urban One Honors, which aired Sunday night on TV One and CLEO TV, celebrated the vast achievements of several Black women who helped improve and cultivate the culture in different variations.
Dr. Ala Stanford, the recipient of the Health Equality Advocate award, sponsored by Amazon, is a decorated and revered physician who is hailed as a champion for her communities. Stanford is a North Philadelphia native who pours her all into creating wellness outcomes for city residents and patients around the country. Her work and numerous organizations have provided access for Black communities who remain historically disenfranchised.
Dr. Stanford was called to pursue a career in medicine from an early age, inspired by her love for children and her father’s career as a health advocate at the Pennsylvania Department of Children and Youth for more than 30 years.
She graduated from Penn State with a degree in biology and received an M.D. from the school’s College of Medicine. Stanford shared she was often confronted by medical professionals who urged Black students to pursue careers as primary care physicians, steering them away from more lucrative tracks based in surgery.
“I felt like they were forcing me into this category, so I rebelled against that,” she told Philadelphia Magazine.
Stanford completed her residency in general surgery at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Following her residency, she also completed two research fellowships at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and one in pediatric surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Stanford’s accolades are lengthy; she’s the first Black woman pediatric surgeon trained entirely in the United States. She’s also Board certified by the American Board of Surgery in both pediatric and adult general surgery.
It is a position she still faces adversity as a Black woman, stemming from the lack of racial and gender diversity in her field.
“People just didn’t expect an African American woman to attain certain heights, so the expectations were lower sometimes,” she said. “Then when I’d try to surpass them, I’d be told I was doing too much. They’d go from saying ‘She’s not aggressive enough to be a surgeon’ to ‘I hope she doesn’t think she’s going to just smile her way through surgery training.’ And it felt like weights on my ankles, pulling me down. Being a Black woman, trying to defy those expectations — that was and still is my biggest challenge.”
Last spring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic Stanford sprang into action by launching The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium alongside her husband Bryan Drayton, a fellow physician. Stanford enlisted a team of physicians and nurses to venture into predominantly Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia to administer COVID-19 exams to residents at no cost, an effort that undoubtedly saved lives. It is the first of its kind in the city.
“I was getting so frustrated by people telling me what they were going to do, and how long it would take and why it wouldn’t work,” Stanford told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I was just like, ‘OK, let me check my office and see what I have in the way of supplies. Let me see what my friends have in the way of supplies.’ And was like, ‘We are going to do this while they figure it out. Because I can’t sit around and wait.’”
Stanford was compelled to act after learning that Black Philadelphians made up more than half of the COVID-19 cases in the city. Black people in America have been disproportionately affected by the virus, compounded by systemic racism which often leaves them void of consistent access to health care. Most of the testing administered Stanford paid for out of pocket before forming a partnership with the city of Philadelphia.
As access to vaccines increases, the consortium members now administer vaccinations, an important effort in restoring trust to help eliminate vaccine hesitancy.
Warrior Wife & Mom
Balance is essential in the life of a working physician who must make split-second decisions in order to provide the best possible wellness outcome for their patients. But home is where Stanford finds peace and balance as a wife and mom, raising three sons, a 12-year-old and a set of 10-year-old twins.
Stanford believes her time with her children is invaluable and formed two additional wellness organizations to provide more flexibility in order to spend more time at home with her family.
Wellness Concierge & Community Advocate
Stanford also owns and operates R.E.AL. Concierge Medicine and It Takes Philly Inc. At R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine Stanford and her team offer private, personalized healthcare services for business executives, athletes and entertainers, as well as providing mobile ICU units to lower-income patients allowing them to safely travel and participate in family functions. One of her biggest tasks was working with actor Will Smith for his 50th birthday celebration where he bungee jumped out of a helicopter. Stanford assembled a team of experts in under two months to provide triage services in case of the worst possible outcome. Luckily that moment never came.
Her organization, It Takes Philly, Inc., focuses on the professional and personal development of youth in urban and suburban areas with limited resources. The non-profit works to “expose children to professions that exist within and outside of their communities, to show them that we as professional people and members of society are invested and care about their future.”
With all of her accomplishments and community work, Stanford has achieved a great deal of media recognition, especially in terms of her provider care during the pandemic. This past week, Stanford’s image was featured in a Philadelphia mural that depicts important Black women in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
She plans to continue administering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, provide care through her private practice and motivate the youth.
“I need to see progress in whatever I’m doing. So I’m open to the possibility that I could end up helping to improve public health policy for African Americans, because they need a champion,” she says. “I don’t know that I’ll be the voice for the nation, but I can certainly be a voice right here in my city.”