Home > Dr. Jeannette E. South-Paul is the Andrew W. Mathieson UPMC Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

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PUM Black History Salutes: Dr. Jeannette E. South-Paul, the Andrew W. Mathieson UPMC Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine



Dr. Jeannette E. South-Paul is the Andrew W. Mathieson UPMC Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. South-Paul is responsible for the educational, research and clinical activities of the undergraduate and graduate medical education, faculty practice, and community arms of 3 family medicine residencies and seven ambulatory clinical sites in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a practicing family physician who includes maternity care, as well as an academician with specific research interests in the areas of cultural competence, maternity care, and health disparities in the community. 
Dr. South-Paul has served in leadership positions in the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and the Association of Departments of Family Medicine (ADFM) to include President of the Uniformed Services of American Family Physicians (USAFP) and the STFM.
Dr. South-Paul earned her B.S. degree from the University of Pennsylvania, her M.D. at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2011. In, 2012,  Dr. South-Paul received the Dr. Wangari Maathai Humanitarian Award from Workforce Development Global Alliance (WDGA), a Pittsburgh-based organization that helps disadvantaged youth in the United States and Africa. 
In 2013, Dr. South-Paul received the University of Pittsburgh 225th Anniversary Chancellor’s Medallion.    In 2015, Dr. South-Paul was elected into the Gold Humanism Honor Society through the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. Also, in 2015 Dr. South-Paul received the Chapel of Four Chaplains’ Legion of Honor Award.


PUM: Tell us more about your position at UPMC and what do you enjoy most about your career?

Dr. South-Paul: I’m the medical director of the Community Health Services Division of UPMC and the chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I am the first woman and the first African American to serve as the permanent chair of a department at the School of Medicine, and one of a small number of African American chairs in medical schools nationwide. What attracted me to this position in 2001, and has kept me here since then, is that I love working with diverse groups of people - both patients and colleagues - to improve the health of our community.

PUM: What really made a difference in your life to help you become successful? Your formula for success?

Dr. South-Paul: When I think of success, it has a lot to do with being goal-oriented. If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there, so I’ve always tried to stay focused on what I believe my purpose is. An obstacle is what you see when you take your eyes off the goal, so focusing on your purpose helps you see above the noise and distraction. Also, my parents instilled certain principles in me, including faith in God and that He’s placed us here on Earth for a purpose. If you’re directing your efforts towards that purpose, you’ll be successful. Any accomplishment I’ve been able to achieve is attributed to staying in touch with what I believe to be my divine purpose for being here.

PUM: What sort of advice do you have for people interested in pursuing careers like yours?

Dr. South-Paul: My advice is to make sure you get the best training possible and identify a mentor to help you navigate the journey. There’s so much that’s unwritten about what it takes to be successful, but partnering your education with the direction of a good mentor is key.

PUM: What sort of challenges do you face and how do you overcome some of your obstacles?

Dr. South-Paul: One of the biggest challenges is having the expectations of many around me exceed the amount of hours I have to devote to them. There's lots to be done, so I must prioritize what I can do with the amount of time and resources I have to respond to the requests of colleagues and the community.

Another issue, particularly for those of us who are members of underrepresented groups (race or gender), is figuring out how to energize the organization you represent to prioritize what you think is important. We’re in the positions we’re in to respond to institutional priorities, but having a team that’s competent to support the priorities you have identified is a way to overcome that potential obstacle.

For example, I’m committed to increasing our assistance in engaging the community and reducing health disparities among the populations we serve. Although these are at the top of my priority list, they fall among several other obligations that must be fulfilled as academic chair, so I’m challenged with keeping them as competing priorities for myself and other colleagues in my department.

A final challenge is being underestimated in how far and how high you can achieve leadership positions. People have said to me, “you've done a good job, but you're not as good as [insert name]” or have commented that I don't look like the type of person who’d normally be in the position I’m in.

The latter perception can make it especially difficult for African American women in the job search because when we apply for certain positions, those interviewing can't “see” us in the role. That is most definitely an obstacle.

PUM: How do you celebrate Black History Month and what are some significant events and milestones in U.S. Black history that you reflect on during this time?

Dr. South-Paul: I look at Black History Month as opportunity to publicly acknowledge that the lives of African Americans in this country are different than the lives of others. I also appreciate reading the Pittsburgh Urban Media spotlights and other avenues that highlight specific individuals who've lived and prevailed despite the obstacles we face.

It’s a delight to see the increased visibility of African Americans in the movie industry, where we’ve either been absent or represented as pimps, drug dealers, or in a role that doesn't represent who the vast majority of us are.

Films like “Hidden Figures,” where Black women are portrayed as brilliant scientists, and “Fences,” where the nuclear family takes care of each other, are more accurate representations and I find them energizing.

All Black History Month events I’ve attended have been terrific and unique in their own special way, so I don't elevate one particular event over another. Combined, they all describe the progress we've made; demonstrate our universal value as bright, thoughtful and generous people who are leaders making change for the broader American community; and remind us of how far we still have to go.

PUM: Who are some of the African Americans that you feel have positively helped to contribute to Black history? How have they influenced and motivated you to make a difference in our world?

A few African Americans that I believe have positively contributed to Black History are: President Barack Obama; Condoleezza Rice; Colin Powell; Don Wilson (first Black dean of the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Medicine); Alexa Canady (first Black woman to be a neurosurgeon); Ben Carson (made significant strides in the medical field prior to being a politician); and Barbara Ross-Lee (first African-American woman to become a medical school dean).

All of these notable Black men and women made it possible for us to even think we could achieve high positions in leadership. They motivate me, especially those in medicine, to believe that if they achieve it, I can, too.

I’m also inspired, and have made it a goal of mine, to mentor others.

PUM: Diversity is a word often used in corporate America. What are your thoughts about diversity in the workplace, and how it is implemented in your particular field?

Dr. South-Paul: Diversity is a broad, but important term. In order for it to be effective, it has to become more than a basket term used to congratulate ourselves for having representation from various populations, but not for the people within the communities we serve who have the greatest need.

We also have to be careful because diversity can be used to shut down certain groups or levied in a variable fashion, depending on what people want to achieve politically. It’s important to remember that we have African Americans who've been in this country for generations and are overrepresented in poverty and jails, yet underrepresented in leadership.

Recruiting from other countries to provide opportunities for non-citizens doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of taking care of those who’ve been here for generations.

Progress has been made, but we still have a lot to do.





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