Photo Credit: California University Newscenter, Fullerton.
By Jenelle Taylor
Earlier this March, York College alumna Vickie Mabry-Height, discussed the candid truth of the obstacles she faced enroute to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor.
Growing up as a young African American female in Greenville, North Carolina during the Jim Crow era, she was forced to overcome sexism, racism, and injustices starting in her early years. The Jim Crow era was a period during which African Americans were discriminated against.
Mabry-Height is an eyewitness to seeing colored ladies restroom signs and the letters COL written after an African American doctor’s name, relating the era to one of this year’s most popular Oscar award winning movies, Hidden Figures .
“Those symbols are now gone,” said the certified physician. “But what’s not gone is what those symbols represented.”
Mabry-Height said she was forced to not let anyone stand in the way of her achieving her goals. One of her high school guidance counselors tried to dissuade her from attending college and becoming a doctor.
“Moms always know best,” said Mabry-Height. “I was able to take the advice from my mom and turn my life around to head down the path I saw for myself.”
Former York College Biology Professor Leslie Lewis, who worked on the campus for approximately 40 years, played a key role in the Mabry-Height’s life. He said one of the most rewarding parts of his career at the college is the contact he has been able to maintain with his students. Mabry-Height was one of those students. She enrolled to take his complex lecture/lab genetics class in 1974.
“She was a dedicated and focused student who was always attentive in class,” said Lewis. “She was never shy to ask questions and most importantly made use of my office hours for a counter summary of one-on-one opportunities to explain problems in the class or solutions to the very complex genetics problems discussed earlier.”
Lewis said he was there to help her overcome her obstacles and bypass anyone who obstructed her path to success. Mabry-Height said she wanted to touch the lives of medical students everywhere. After serving 30 years in the healthcare field, she dedicated herself to publishing her personal memoir, White Coat Secrets – Still Standing: A Doctor’s Story, which is filled with motivational messages, wisdom, and the lessons she’s learned along her journey.
Although her story was written for young black girls and women looking to follow their dreams of becoming a doctor, she hopes her challenges leading to her triumph can touch people of any age, race or gender.
She said a job interviewer for a health clinic position in Los Angeles was extremely racist.
“He had a very tense but distinguished demeanor,” said Mabry-Height. “He had assumed I was a man because there was no first name on my resume. I had learned early to exclude that first name because women were often excluded from interviews. The interviewer obviously expected something other than a black, female physician and he just couldn’t hide the shock on his face when I walked in and his discomfort was so obvious.”
Mabry-Height went on from York to graduate from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a Master’s in Public Health with an Emphasis on Environmental and Occupational Toxicology.