Black History Month Spotlight: Edward Leonard, MD

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February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and honor the traditions, history, perspectives and contributions of all Black Americans. In honor of this month and the year-round contributions of our Black team members, we spoke with Overlake Infectious Disease Specialist Edward Leonard, MD, to hear his reflections on Black identity, diversity in healthcare, and why representation is vital for positive patient outcomes.

Q: What does your Black/African/African American heritage mean to you?

A: It is a reflection of pride for me. People before me have accomplished great things, which has allowed me to accomplish great things in my own life.

Q: Is there something you wish people knew more about your culture or racial identity?

A: Black people are as industrious, knowledgeable and loving as other groups.

Q: Why do you think diversity and inclusion in the healthcare workforce are important? How do greater diversity and inclusion affect the patient experience?

A: When people are sick, they are at their worst—in a time of suffering, seeing someone who looks like you and has similar experiences and values can make a huge difference in the patient’s clinical improvement by providing a sense of comfort. A diverse workforce also allows for greater interactions between people of different ethnicities and racial groups, which can lead to better communication and understanding of different cultural traditions and in how similar these traditions can be in pursuing the goal of becoming a better person.

Q: What led you to pursue a career in healthcare?  

A: I always had an interest in science going back to elementary and junior high school. As I started junior high school, I also developed a desire to help people—medicine provided a means to study science and ultimately help people.

Q: Who was/were your inspiration(s) as you were building your career? 

A: One of my biggest inspirations was Dr. Charles Drew, a Black physician who helped delineate the ABO blood typing system to make it safer for patients to get blood transfusions in the mid-20th century. On a more personal level, I started volunteering at a hospital in my hometown of Akron, Ohio. I met a physician resident in urology who took me under his wing and gave me a lot of insight into medicine, from training to clinical practice.

Q: Why is representation important in your field of study? 

A: Representation is very important because I have seen over and over in my career that the more comfortable patients are with you, the more they are willing to work with you and do things to improve their health. I have seen this comfort increase exponentially when the patient sees a provider that looks like them or has a similar background. Thus, it is important to have physicians of all racial, ethnic and gender backgrounds to provide that inspiration for patients.

Q: When you reflect on your career, what moment are you most proud of? 

A: No single moment in my career sticks out, but the one thing that gives me pride in being a physician is seeing the patients getting better from their illnesses. The pride I feel in helping a patient get better and get back to their normal lives is just incredible and keeps me going every day.

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