Dr. Jacqueline Lewis: Medical role model, leading surgeon

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 like the attention on me, really. … I just do my job because I just love doing it.

With nearly 40 years of experience in the medical field, Lewis, 67, operates his own general surgery practice in Princeton Baptist. She also serves as chair of the center’s general surgery division and credentialing committee.

“It has truly been a blessing to have the opportunity to serve. I have had the opportunity to help many patients,” she said, showing a wall of thank you notes from her patients over the phone. 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’ve seen growth and improvement since I started here (in 1992). I never really think twice about it, I just want to do my duty to help people.

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

“(It’s a) opportunity for young black girls and boys to realize that they can do whatever they set their hearts on doing and they don’t have to let obstacles stop them,” Lewis said. “Obstacles may be placed in your way, but you have to stay focused and excel at what you are doing.” To be successful, she says, you must “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. His father’s military career also took the family to North Carolina, Georgia and Japan.

Between each new location, Lewis always had a “home” in Birmingham. His father was from the Woodlawn community. “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 1989, Dr. Jacqueline Lewis Lewis became the first black woman to practice general surgery in Alabama. (Amarr Croskey/The Birmingham Times)

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.

Lewis started at Banks when his father found out he was going to be stationed in Vietnam. The family would stay in Birmingham, his hometown, while he went overseas.

Banks “was predominantly white at that time, and I was one of the first black female students,” she said. “There were two other black children and I was the third. …Before zoning became a thing, I was pretty much on my own and had to face obstacles early on because I was being transferred from a military base.

One of the major hurdles Lewis had to overcome at the predominantly white school was enrolling in honors classes.

“When I went to enroll at Banks, the counselor (who was white) looked at my transcript and saw that I had got A’s and had taken math and English with honors . She asked, ‘Was that a colored school you went to?’ … She thought 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 enroll in these courses. They go fast. You should probably just enroll in the regular class. So I spent my freshman year at Banks, in ninth grade, in regular English and math classes, which is 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 even served as president of the Girls Olympian Club, a math club for high school students. “I was the only black person in a lot of those organizations.”

Lewis graduated from Banks in 1972 and enrolled in UAB’s physical therapy program.

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 math because I really liked it, and then I thought of something in health. At the time, UAB had an excellent physical therapy program. »

Lewis was accepted into the program, was elected physical therapy class president, and received a full merit scholarship for physical therapy in her final two years of undergraduate studies. “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,” she said.

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 said. Medical school programs “put you in all these different rotations to find out what you like best. 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 internships at UAB Hospital, then moved to New Rochelle, New York, where she completed her residency in general surgery.

The hospital had a lot of trauma patients, she 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 were reportedly people who had “jumped off high buildings because they were on drugs, so they walked into the ER in pieces.”

In 1989, Lewis moved back to Birmingham, 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 taking care of his patients at any time. 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.

This story was originally published by The Birmingham Times.

Rebecca R. Santistevan