Celebrating Black History Month with a look at local African-Americans in medicine

Registered Nurse
Bartow Regional Medical Center

As a black registered nurse from North Carolina, 56-year-old Alex Alexander has had his run-ins with prejudice. But he’s learned to remember who he is, treat others like his brothers and sisters, forgive, and … not believe everything he hears. “You earn things by your merit and not your color,” he says.

Early in his career, he applied and was hired at a hospital in the South where, supposedly, they didn’t hire black nurses. “That was the biggest lie,” he says. “They taught me from the ground up; everything I wanted to know, they taught me. They were just wonderful.”

Later, he had a patient snub him because of his color, although the patient didn’t admit the reason at first. The patient came into the physician’s office where Alexander was working as the nurse. Alexander was supposed to take his blood pressure and vital signs, but the patient rebuffed him. In the end, the doctor dismissed the patient for his attitude.

Then, a month later, that same patient showed up at the hospital where Alexander was on duty. He was having a heart attack. Alexander was the expert they called to administer life-saving medication to dissolve a clot. “He looked at me. You could see he was apprehensive. I said ‘How are you? I’m so sorry you’re ill. Let’s see if we can get an IV (intravenous therapy) for you,’ ” Alexander recalls.

Later, when the patient went to check out, he apologized. He said it was stupid and it was the way he was taught. Alexander replied, “I forgave you that day and I moved on. Have a great day.”

Alexander is now a staff nurse in acute care at Bartow Regional Medical Center. A Christian who decided to become a nurse on Sept. 26, 1975, while watching “The Lawrence Welk Show,” he wishes everyone would take advantage of the opportunities they have today. “You can be anything that you aspire to be, if you apply yourself,” he says. “It’s not just going to be given to you. You have to apply yourself.”

Internal Medicine
Watson Clinic

Dr. Edward Baffoe-Bonnie decided on a career in medicine because he wanted to help people all over the world. An internal medicine physician at the Lakeland-based Watson Clinic since 1998, he enjoys having a positive impact on people’s lives. “Initially I had planned to join the World Health Organization (WHO) and get involved in International health awareness. I still plan to do so someday,” he says.

Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie earned his doctorate at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, where he served his residency at the Emory University, Affiliate Hospitals. “There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you help people every day and that the care that you offer can have a positive impact on your patients, their families, and entire communities,” he says.

The challenges involved in a career in medicine are evolving, he points out. “Currently, it is frustrating that physicians are somewhat impacted by litigation, insurance company requirements/policies, burdensome government guidelines, and the incredible costs of healthcare,” he explains. “All these affect the adequate delivery of healthcare to the underserved communities and less fortunate families who need it most.”

Tobacco Prevention Program Manager
Florida Department of Health in Polk County

Social worker Angela Sorte makes a living helping people quit smoking. As a tobacco prevention program manager for the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk), Sorte gets a lot of personal satisfaction sharing resources that can change lives.

“I love being able to educate people and help them improve their overall quality of life,” says the 42-year-old, who has worked in smoking prevention for 10-plus years. Sorte knew at an early age that she wanted to be a social worker. “I was that kid in school that was always trying to help other kids,” she recalls.

She began volunteering with minority youths working with alcohol and drug prevention. She gravitated toward helping people quit smoking when she recognized nicotine as the “silent killer.”

Sorte, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Cheyney University in Cheyney, Pennsylvannia, has been working for four years in Polk County through a community intervention and prevention grant. Funds are provided through a 2005 federal court master settlement agreement with tobacco companies. Their goal is a “tobacco-free future,” she says. The free service combines education with practical strategies, including patches, gum, and lozenges.

Sorte is grateful to be able to share her knowledge about smoking cessation and other programs available through FDOH-Polk. “Seeking medical care early is really important,” she explains.

She loves the fact that she doesn’t feel any different because she is black. “I don’t feel that I’m any different than my white counterparts,” she says. “I’ve positioned myself to feel that way.”

Sorte also observes that when people are in negative environments it can hold them down. “If everything I’m around is sending a negative message to me that I’m not going to be successful … I’m most likely not going to be successful,” she says. “At some point, you have to realize you are accountable for that.” That may mean it’s necessary to change your physical environment and/or attitude. “I have to believe within myself … that I can attain,” she adds.

Those who want more information can call the FDOH-Polk at (863) 519-7900 or visit http://mypolkhealth.com. Help also is available at http://www.tobaccofreeflorida.com.


articles by CHERYL ROGERS

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