Headshot of a young African American woman from the 1980s framed next to a current photo of her.

Breaking Barriers in Medicine: A Journey of Persistence and Impact

As Black History Month unfolds, it is essential to shine a light on those whose courage and resilience have paved the way for generations to come. Yvonne Patterson, M.D. (‘83), above center, one of the first black graduates of NEOMED, recently reflected on her remarkable journey, sharing insights into the challenges she faced and her impact in the medical community.

Dr. Patterson’s journey into medicine was fueled by a deep-rooted motivation to address the disparities her grandparents faced in accessing health care. Witnessing their struggles compounded by the neglect of their African American heritage in treatment, ignited her passion for medicine. The allure of NEOMED’s then-six-year program, emphasizing primary care, provided the perfect platform for her aspirations.

Transitioning from classroom to clinical practice was a defining moment for Dr. Patterson. The realization that her education was not just academic but directly applicable to patient care affirmed her decision to follow her dreams and pursue medicine.

Throughout her journey at NEOMED, Dr. Patterson found guidance from mentors like Dr. Keller, a biology professor at the University of Akron and Dr. Hayne Robinson, a pediatric geneticist and pathologist at Akron Children’s Hospital. Recounting her time with Dr. Robinson during the hospital phase at NEOMED, she stated, “he was tough but encouraging and kept me on my toes!” This unwavering support, encouragement and high expectations bolstered her resolve during challenging times and shaped her into the resilient and accomplished professional she became.

Being among the first black graduates came with its share of hurdles.

“The very unique challenge I faced was not being able to obtain housing in the area of the medical school due to prejudices. My voice sounded white on the phone, but as soon as I was seen, I was no longer accepted as a tenant! It’s hard enough to deal with medical school but being in a rural setting was hard even though my hometown was not that far away with very few black families.”

Facing a sometimes-unwelcoming environment and navigating implicit biases was a significant part of the journey. Nonetheless, she stood firm, refusing to let obstacles block her path or derail her dreams. She shared, “it just pushed [me] to prove them wrong!”

Her advice to current black medical students echoes her experiences: “Through determination and motivation, you can accomplish becoming a successful physician.” While acknowledging the battles against systemic biases, she urges aspiring professionals to let their achievements speak louder than any prejudice.

Graduating symbolized the culmination of Dr. Patterson’s journey.

“On the day of graduation, my father worked in Detroit and told me he may not make it. He walked in while I was on stage before receiving my diploma. He was the one who told me to accept the challenge of going to NEOMED to be the first doctor in my family and he was there with the rest of my family to see me cross the stage. It came full circle and to honor him I kept his name as my professional name: Dr. Patterson.”

Dr. Patterson takes pride in her multifaceted achievements.

“Working primary care as a pediatrician was rewarding but doing 30+ years in college health [at Pennsylvania State University] has been extremely rewarding! I have been able to impact health care and prevention more than I could have in private practice or any other health care organization. Caring for that age range provides educational opportunities for growth in health care to individuals that can last a lifetime!”

In 2005, she was honored with the Alumni Legacy Award from the NEOMED Alumni Association as an alumna who exemplifies the importance of diversity and inclusion in our multicultural society. From her marriage to a fellow physician to her impactful role at Penn State in University Health Services, she has mapped a legacy of dedication and service.

Now retired, she remains committed to serving marginalized communities, particularly within the LGBTQ+ community. Her advocacy for inclusive health care underscores the ongoing importance of representation and understanding in medical practice.

In celebrating Black History Month, Dr. Patterson’s journey serves as a reminder of the resilience and determination that have shaped the landscape of medicine. Her story is not just one of personal triumph but a beacon of hope for generations of aspiring black professionals, inspiring them to break barriers and make their mark on the world.


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