The Doctor Is In
As a woman of color, she is a real-life Doc McStuffins
By Jessica Laskey
As a teenager in Richmond, Letitia Bradford knew she wanted to go into medicine. During a summer program for high school students at UC San Francisco, she decided she would study there—not realizing it was the most competitive public medical school in the country.
She got in.
Then, as a medical student at UCSF, Letitia Bradford decided to specialize in orthopedic surgery. A male adviser told her that orthopedic surgery is only for “strong guys.”
She’s been practicing orthopedic surgery for 13 years.
“Men will tell you that it’s all about brute strength,” Bradford says, “but it’s really all about technique. I get it done.”
Letitia Bradford has always been good at getting it done, whether that was studying for her medical board exams with a newborn (“I don’t recommend it, but I got through it,” she says) or traveling from her home in the Pocket area to King City—a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Sacramento—two weeks a month to practice at the only community hospital for 100 miles.
“Medicine is hard,” says Bradford. “It’s long hours. You’re never on time for anything. You’re always rippin’ and runnin’.”
Growing up in the foster care system, she played as many sports as she could, including volleyball, basketball and softball. That introduced her to the idea of studying sports medicine.
While earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education at UC Berkeley, she participated in campus organizations like the Student National Medical Association and played club basketball. A torn ACL deepened her commitment to becoming a physician.
“My doctor had a horrible bedside manner,” Bradford recalls. “He treated me like a piece of meat. I vowed that I would never treat my patients that way.”
In medical school, she was one of only five African-American females in training in the country. After completing her residency at UCSF, she moved to Yuba City in 2005 to be closer to her ex-husband and share custody of their son, now 21. As a locum physician (a doctor who works temporarily to fill gaps in care), she was asked to work a stint at Mee Memorial Hospital, a community hospital and rural health clinic in King City.
“It’s incredible to work in such a small community,” says Bradford, who is now the hospital’s director of orthopedic services. “You spend so much time nurturing relationships with people that they really become part of your family. You hold their hands to calm them down. You care for multiple generations of the same family. You go to services for them when they die. A lot of people think we look at patients as just a problem to be solved, but they really mean something to us.”
Bradford encourages others to pursue their doctoring dreams. When her 6-year-old son became interested in the animated Disney Junior TV show “Doc McStuffins” (whose main character is an African-American girl who wants to be a doctor), Bradford saw an opportunity to reach future female physicians of color.
“Here was this little brown girl talking about medicine,” Bradford says. “My friends and I started talking about how we’re all like real-life Doc McStuffins.”
They formed an informal group called We Are Doc McStuffins, and Disney Junior aired “We Are Doc McStuffins” shorts featuring several real-life female physicians, including Bradford. She also helped found Artemis Medical Society, an organization of more than 2,500 female African-American physicians and medical students representing 39 states and six countries. In her work with Artemis and as a member of The Perry Initiative, which mentors young women to be leaders in medicine and engineering, Bradford hopes to inspire girls to greatness.
“So much was given to me that I need to give back,” Bradford says. “The village helped me get where I am today, so now I’m going to help the village.”
For more information on Artemis Medical Society, go to artemismedicalsociety.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.