Meet the Doctor Raising Awareness for Diversity in Medicine
As president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice is committed to helping the next generation of Black doctors tackle a global pandemic that has hit home.
Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice grew up with a passion for math and science. Although she didn’t always know she wanted to be a doctor, she did want to make a difference in the lives of families and communities. Throughout her career as a fertility specialist, medical researcher, and academic dean, her determination to excel has never wavered. Now as president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, a renowned historically black medical school with a primary focus on serving underserved and minority communities, Montgomery Rice is helping the next generation of physicians, researchers, and public health professionals pursue their own dreams while facing an unprecedented global health pandemic.
Growing up in Macon, GA, Montgomery Rice’s childhood wasn’t always easy. Her single mother worked long hours at a factory to support her four daughters, constantly stressing to them that education was their ticket to a better life, and they could be anything they dared to dream.
Montgomery Rice was driven by that philosophy. She was as ambitious as she was energetic, and despite being the only Black student in the honors program at her high school, she was determined to succeed academically. After graduating as president of her class, Montgomery Rice headed to Georgia Tech to study engineering. She excelled at that, too, but soon realized that the hours of isolation in a chemistry lab were far too isolating for her gregarious personality. She decided to pivot to a career that would allow her to connect with people and began to look at medical schools.
Finding Her Calling
It was 1983 when Montgomery Rice applied to medical school. Undaunted by the fact that there was only one Black student for every 14 white students getting a degree in medicine at the time, Montgomery Rice set her sights on the most prestigious program she could find: Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. She was accepted—and graduated as one of just 10 Black students in a class of 130.
Degree in hand, Montgomery Rice took her love of research and passion for working with patients back to Georgia, where she completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University. Committed to continuing her research, she then completed at fellowship in fertility, reproduction, and endocrinology at Hutzel Hospital in Detroit.
Passing It On
A successful career in reproductive endocrinology led to positions as an assistant professor and director of clinical trials at the University of Kansas. In 2003, Montgomery Rice became chair of the OB-GYN department at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN, where she founded the Center for Women’s Health and Research, one of the nation’s first research centers devoted to studying diseases that disproportionately impact women of color. She also served as the dean and senior vice president at Meharry Medical College.
Her reputation for recruitment and securing research grants for studies involving underserved communities grew. In 2011, she became the dean and executive vice president of Morehouse School of Medicine, and in 2013, she accepted the prestigious position as its sixth president—the first woman to serve in this capacity. Guiding a school that prides itself on diversifying the healthcare workforce and eliminating healthcare disparities has brought things full circle for Montgomery Rice. “The presidency is my platform to be able to fulfill my purpose,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2019.
A Platform for Pandemic Awareness
Even as Montgomery Rice has successfully worked to recruit more students of color into the medical school program, gaps in quality healthcare for the Black community persist. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven this point home—and it is one that Montgomery Rice is actively working to address. She has spoken out about the importance of including Black people in clinical vaccine trials and continues to advocate for more resources in minority communities hit especially hard by the virus.
It’s a challenging time to be in the field of medicine, but also the opportunity of a lifetime to push for changes that will equalize access and quality of healthcare in all communities. Recalling her mother’s belief that education is the key to success, Montgomery Rice is raising her voice to share important information about the pandemic in underserved communities, and hopes to inspire others to do the same.
Want to get involved in helping to advance science and in finding a COVID-19 vaccine? The COVID-19 Prevention Network conducts studies of vaccines and monoclonal antibodies to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
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COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) was formed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the US National Institutes of Health to respond to the global pandemic. Using the infectious disease expertise of their existing research networks and global partners, NIAID has directed the networks to address the pressing need for vaccines and monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against SARS-CoV-2.