Dr. Jacqueline Lewis: medical role model and leading surgeon

This story is reproduced with permission from The Birmingham Times

Jacqueline Lewis, MD, sits in her office at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham. She’s graceful and poised with her many references adorning the wall behind her, but what stands out most about Lewis is her modesty.

“I’ve never been one to brag or brag about what I do or have done,” she said. “I don’t really like the attention on me. … I just do my job because I just love doing it.

With more than 39 years of experience in the medical field, Lewis, 67, currently operates his own general surgery practice at Princeton Baptist Medical Center. She is also chair of the center’s division of general surgery and of the accreditation committee.

“It has truly been a blessing to have the opportunity to serve. I have had the opportunity to help many patients,” she said, pointing to a wall of thank you notes from her patients. over the years.” I feel like I’ve made a difference in my life. I try to sit on different committees and help things run smoothly. …I have seen growth and improvement since [1992, when] I started here. I never really think twice about it, I just want to do my duty to help people.

Lewis became the first black female surgeon general in 1989 to practice general surgery in the state of Alabama and is one of the few black female surgeons in the United States.

“[It’s an] opportunity for young black girls and boys to realize that they can do anything they set their hearts on doing and shouldn’t let obstacles stop them,” Lewis said. “Obstacles can be placed in your way, but you have to stay focused and excel at what you are doing. … [To succeed, you have to] have a vision of what you want to do, how you want to contribute, and what you think your purpose in life is.

“House” in Birmingham

Lewis was born in Heidelberg, Germany. “My father made a career out of serving in [Army]which means i was a military kid [because] we spent most of our time moving from place to place,” said the doctor, who has lived in North Carolina, Georgia and Japan.

Between each new location, Lewis always had a “home” in Birmingham.

“My father was from [the Woodlawn community]and between moves we could always take a break and take a month or two to stay with the family on my dad’s side,” she said.

In 1968, Lewis’ family officially moved to Birmingham, where she attended the now-closed L. Frazier Banks High School after transferring from an integrated high school in Columbus, Georgia.

“[Banks High School] was predominantly white at that time, and I was one of the first black female students,” she said. “There were two other black children [at the school]and I was the third…”

“Before zoning became a thing, I was quite alone and had to face obstacles from the beginning because I was being transferred from a military base [school]. … When I [started at] Banks High School, my dad found out he was going to be stationed in Vietnam. The family would stay in Birmingham, his home town, while he [went overseas]. … We didn’t follow him.

One of the main hurdles Lewis had to overcome at the predominantly white banks was enrolling in honor classes.

“When I went to enroll at Banks, the counselor, [who was white], looked at my transcript and saw that I got A’s and took math and English with honors. She asked, ‘Was that a colored school you went to?’ …She figured the grades I got could only be from a quote-unquote ‘colored school’ – that was the word she used,” Lewis recalled.

“I was told, ‘No, you can’t sign up for these classes, they go fast. You should probably just enroll in the regular class. So I spent my freshman year at Banks, ninth grade, in regular English and math, [which were] easy for me,” she said.

In her sophomore year, Lewis took math and English with honors and enrolled in the National Honor Society. “I got pretty much A’s and a few B’s all through high school. I was even president of the Girls Olympian Club, [a math club for high school students]. I was the only black person in many of these organizations.

Lewis graduated from Banks in 1972 and enrolled in the physical therapy program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Find your passion

Lewis never “really had ambitions to be a doctor,” she said.

“I have always loved science and mathematics. So naturally if you’re good at science, that was the way to go. I had never gotten a B in science, so I wanted to do something in that field. … I was thinking of teaching mathematics because I really liked [the subject], then I thought of something in the field of health. At the time, UAB had an excellent physical therapy program.

“I was accepted into the physiotherapy program…and was elected physiotherapy class president. … I [was awarded] full [merit] physiotherapy scholarship during my last two years of undergrad. … I had money to pay for school, money to pay for books, and extra money in the bank for an allowance. I have been blessed.

After graduating in 1976, Lewis took a job as a licensed physical therapist working at UAB’s Spanish rehabilitation center. “I started a program and developed from scratch a physiotherapy department at Ensley Community Hospital. That department grew and the services provided to patients grew,” she said.

After three years, Lewis decided she wanted a change. “I felt like I had the ability to do a little more so I decided to quit my masters in physiotherapy to take some pre-med classes that I needed because I didn’t have all the prerequisites to apply to med school..…I finally applied and got into UAB med school on a full scholarship.

“I went to medical school with the idea that I wanted to go into family medicine,” she continued. “[Medical school programs] put yourself in all these different rotations to feel what you love the most. That’s when I decided I liked surgery.

It is practice makes perfect

Lewis graduated from UAB medical school in 1983 and completed a few rotations at the UAB hospital, then moved to New Rochelle, New York, where she completed her residency in general surgery.

“There was a lot of trauma [patients] in the hospital,” the graduate doctor said. “When I did my rotation at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, people were coming into the ER with gunshot wounds, traumatic injuries. [There would be people who] had jumped off high buildings because they were on drugs, so they arrived at the ER in pieces.

In 1989, Lewis moved back to Birmingham and teamed up with Princeton Baptist Medical Center surgeon Dr. David Franklin for about three years, then got certified and opened her solo practice in 1992 — and she doesn’t plan on not to stop doing his duty by taking care of him. for his patients soon.

“As long as you’re healthy, still love what you’re doing, and feel like you can do it, you can do it,” Lewis said.

Rebecca R. Santistevan