Paving the Way: A Doctor's Journey in Obstetrics and Gynecology to Improve Healthcare for Minority Women

Tanya Franklin, MD MSPH, is an associate professor for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health. She serves as an advocate for mentorship in the medical field, and is a proud mentor for the Central High School Pre-Med program in the West Louisville Community. The University of Louisville School of Medicine interviewed Franklin to get insights on her life as a person of color within the medical field and her passions that persuaded her to pursue medicine.

UofL School of Medicine: What inspired you to pursue the area of General Obstetrics and Gynecology?

Dr. Franklin: As an adolescent I was surrounded by so many examples of unhealthy relationships, teen pregnancy, and missed potential of young women. I knew that these situations were avoidable with education, access to healthcare, and having a trusted doctor.  

UofL School of Medicine: What are some issues minority women face within OBGYN Health Care?

Dr. Franklin: Black women die in childbirth at rates 3-4x higher than their white counterparts. Some Black women enter the medical system with reluctance and mistrust. They may not see anyone at any level in the healthcare system who looks like them. They may feel guarded and unable to experience and express their vulnerability during a life-changing vulnerable time.

UofL School of Medicine: How does the University of Louisville School of Medicine and UofL Health address these issues?

Dr. Franklin: The University of Louisville has worked to diversify our medical school and faculty in addition to hiring a more diverse hospital staff. The goal is to have the healthcare staff represent the diversity of the patient population. During the first and second year of medical school, the curriculum includes clinical cases and discussions about their own personal bias and how it can impact the care is delivered and how race and racism negatively impacts the outcomes of black patients.

UofL School of Medicine: What challenges did you overcome when pursuing your field of study?

Dr. Franklin: When I joined the OBGYN residency program at UofL, I was the first black resident in 30 years. This position came with a lot of pressure, that I placed on myself, to represent myself and represent my community in the most positive light. It did not allow me to show much vulnerability and, at times, made me feel isolated. Knowing that my purpose was bigger than me helped me to overcome the pressure and sometimes unrealistic expectations I placed on myself. Knowing that I was paving the way for more residents of color, more faculty of color to come after me has been worth it all.  

UofL School of Medicine: What programs have you been a part of to advance OBGYN healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky?

Dr. Franklin: We have invested in the Central High School Pre-Medical Magnet Program, which launched in the Fall semester of 2022. This relationship gives West Louisville high school students an up-close and personal experience with a career in medicine. I was fortunate to take part in the White Coat Ceremony on Feb 26, 2023. As we placed white coats on each of the 33 students, their dreams of becoming doctors became a more tangible goal. They were able to show the community and their families that they were committed to being a part of the changing healthcare landscape. The energy in the room that day was powerful.  

UofL School of Medicine: As a woman of color, how do you use your background to show compassion and understanding to your patients?

Dr. Franklin: I understand what it was like to be an adolescent that had little knowledge about my body and felt like I had no power to advocate for myself. Every young woman needs someone in her life to tell her and remind her that she is powerful, smart, and in control of her own destiny. Medical decisions can be overwhelming when you don’t have the medical knowledge base to understand. With each patient, I try to serve as their doctor, their guide, and partner in all their healthcare decisions.

UofL School of Medicine: What are your favorite aspects of working in the medical field?

Dr. Franklin: I love being a doctor. I love building relationships with people and am seeing some of my relationships reach almost a decade and a half now. I am also mentoring a Central High School student who was one of the first babies I helped deliver while I was in residency! I know I have a unique role in people’s lives. I get the honor to be a part of very intimate moments with people. Some of these moments are very special and joyful like the birth of a child. Some moments are difficult like a cancer diagnosis or a miscarriage. I am grateful for the opportunity to support my patients through the brightest times and the darkest times of their lives.

UofL School of Medicine: What advice would you give to a student wanting to pursue a medical degree to become an OBGYN?

Dr. Franklin: Many students feel overwhelmed with the amount of time required to become a physician. My advice is always that time is going to pass anyway. The question is, will you be doing what you love during that time or wasting your time doing something else? The time goes by so fast and before you know it you will be mentoring those babies you delivered 17 years ago. Also, this is not meant for everyone to do. This is meant for YOU to do. At the white coat ceremony, the constant theme was that this white coat is like a cape. You do have superpowers when you put it on. You are able to diagnose and treat disease. You are able to remove a cancer from someone’s body and extend their lives. OBGYN is such a unique field because it combines primary care and surgery. You build long-lasting relationships with women across the entire life span and that is so special.  

The University of Louisville School of Medicine thanks Dr. Franklin for her insight into the medical field and her valuable work at UofL and within our community.