Lynne Holden is Working to Change the Face of Medicine

Holden has won a 2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for her work to establish an all-volunteer organization that encourages and nurtures disadvantaged students from Harlem and the South Bronx in New York City to enter the medical profession.

    • October 8, 2009

Lynne Holden knew she wanted to be a physician when she was 6 years old. She would run home from school each day to watch Marcus Welby, M.D. “I wanted to be a doctor just like him,” says Holden, who is female and African American.

While preparing for a career in medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and serving as chief resident in emergency medicine at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., during the early 1990s, Holden’s role models were then mostly white males.

However, she wants today’s youth born and raised in Harlem and the Bronx to know that the health care professions are open to people from all races and socio-economic backgrounds. “A lot of these young people don’t encounter people of other races, people who are sincere about helping them. We work with our students to teach them that just because they don’t look like you doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to help you. We want them to be receptive.”

That is one of the goals of Mentoring in Medicine, a volunteer effort conceived by Holden along with two other physicians and an educator to reach young people from the first grade to graduate school—aiming both to excite students and to help them succeed in health careers.

Thousands of students later, Mentoring in Medicine can point to success stories like the young single mother who became a resident in emergency medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

Lynne Holden is working to change the face of the medical profession, and her efforts earned her a 2009 Community Health Leader Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The honor comes with a one-time $125,000 award, which Holden plans to use to expand her community health services corps. She recruits students to work as health ambassadors, educating members of their communities about health issues such as the dangers of smoking and HIV/AIDS prevention. During the recent flu epidemic, Holden’s health ambassadors were on the streets of the Bronx and Harlem, distributing information about how to prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu strain, better known as the swine flu.

Holden developed the idea to launch Mentoring in Medicine when she was gravely ill. Thinking she would never be able to return to her life as an ER doctor, she began to plan her new venture. Fortunately, she recovered and returned to her life as an emergency medicine physician.

“Emergency medicine is a very special place to work. You see people at their worst and must quickly earn their trust. You befriend people easily because you can help them. I wanted to help young people realize that they could have the great privilege of helping others too.” Holden began by bringing young people with her to watch, learn and follow her path. Now nearly 500 medical professionals are fellow mentors inspiring and guiding future doctors, nurses, and many other types of health care providers.