Barbara Ross-Lee, sister to Diana Ross, is a physician and the first female Black dean of a United States medical school.
Growing up in inner-city Detroit, Ross-Lee and her sister Diana shared a liking for show business. They performed with their brothers and sisters in the church choir. But then while Diana pursued a career in music and led the “Supremes,” Ross-Lee loved and chose the sciences.
Ross-Lee was born in 1942 in Detroit, MI as the oldest of six children. At the time, hardly did any medical schools offer admission to minority students neither were there federal or private funding to help support students from poor families.
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However, Ross-Lee began her pre-medical studies at Detroit’s Wayne State University in 1960 but then her pre-med advisor did not think that women should be physicians so she declined to authorize Ross’s major request.
She ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry in 1965 and went on to train as a teacher.
To earn a teaching degree, she joined the National Teacher Corps while teaching simultaneously in the Detroit public school system. She completed the program in 1969.
She would later discover an opportunity to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor when Michigan State University opened a school of osteopathic medicine in Pontiac, a Detroit suburb.
Ross applied and was accepted. Though a single mother, she graduated from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1973 and went on to run a solo family practice in Detroit until 1984.
She joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a consultant on education in the health professions. She also served on numerous committees and was a community representative on the Governor’s Minority Health Advisory Committee for the state of Michigan from 1990 to 1993.
She worked in private practice, for the U.S. Public Health Service, and on numerous committees and in 1991 she was the first osteopathic physician to participate in the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship.
In 1993, Dr. Ross-Lee became the first African American woman to be appointed dean at Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1993.
While she was dean, she restructured the entire course of study, and drafted a women’s curriculum that earned her a reputation as a “change agent.”
“It is my goal to establish a seamless continuum of education rather than all of the fragments that we have now; to be able to incorporate learning strategies as opposed to the old memorize-and-regurgitate methodology, and to train a physician who is just not technically skilled but who is also capable of being responsible and accountable for the health status of the person he or she treats,” she said.
Ross-Lee believes that medical education is a collaborative enterprise between teachers and students, which, in turn, influences the interaction between doctors and patients.
Today, Dr. Ross-Lee, 77, is a nationally-recognized expert on health policy issues and serves as an advisor for both state and federal governments on primary care, medical education, and health care issues affecting minorities, women, and rural populations.
She is a fellow of the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians, a member of the American Osteopathic Association’s Bureau of Professional Education, and the Trilateral International Medical Workforce Group.
She is a member of the National Institutes of Health’s Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health and served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Ross-Lee was awarded the “Magnificent 7”, in 1993 by Business and Professional Women/USA. She has received the Women’s Health Award from Blackboard African-American National Bestsellers for her contributions to women’s health, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
In 2001, Dr. Ross-Lee was appointed vice president for Health Sciences and Medical Affairs at the New York Institute of Technology. She became dean of the New York Institute of Technology’s New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2002.
Dr. Ross-Lee serves as Director of American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Health Policy Fellowship (HPF) Program; the Training in Policy Studies (TIPS) for postgraduate osteopathic trainees; and the Institute for National Health Policy and Research.
She has an honorary doctorate of science from the New York Institute of Technology. She has lectured extensively and has published more than 30 scholarly articles addressing a variety of medical and health-care issues.