Jamaican doctor blazing a trail in US
The only black woman on the executive and lone Jamaican medical director at Connecticut’s Greenwich Hospital, Dr Kisha Mitchell-Richards has won the first Phil McWhorter Physician of the Year Award at the United States health facility.
Mitchell-Richards, who received her medical degree from The University of the West Indies, Mona, in 1998 and was later trained in pathology at the George Washington University (GWU), has become one of the most respected scientists in the northeastern American state, where noted physician McWhorter remarked that she embodies the spirit of the 206-bed hospital.
McWhorter, who has retired after several years with the institution, selected the Jamaican who hails from Mount Salem in St James out of 1,000 of her peers for the coveted award.
Mitchell-Richards was also selected for recognition earlier this year by one of her colleagues, Dr Kirsten Lauren.
Currently the director of laboratory medicine and pathology at Greenwich/Yale New Haven Health System, she credits her department for securing her this acknowledgement.
“It’s really an honour for my department because of the work that the entire team, the laboratory, and the pathology services do. I am basically the face of the departments on the backs of the work that they do to serve our hospital, our community and our physicians,” the Montego Bay High School past student told The Sunday Gleaner.
Her departments comprise pathologists, histotechnicians and technologists, administrative staff, lab technicians, plus others who operate from three offsite laboratories.
A PHYSICIAN LEADER
Dr Mitchell-Richards’ award comes as no surprise to her colleagues, and chief medical officer at Greenwich, Dr Karen Santucci, spoke with conviction when she said the Jamaican’s accomplishments were great as well as innumerable.
“She is a physician leader at the hospital. She actively participates in and contributes essential information and perspective to expert panels and committees. She is also a highly sought after and valued mentor to countless medical staff,” stated Santucci, adding that Mitchell-Richards led their teams with expertise, grace, and courage through the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Santucci describes Mitchell-Richards as a model of the consummate physician they all aspire to be.
As the accolades rolled in for the Jamaican physician, executive vice-president and chief operation officer, Marc Kosak, lauded Mitchell-Richards as an outstanding leader who has an enormous job and role in caring for the patients in the Greenwich community.
“She is passionate, intelligent, and always does the right things for her staff, and the patients she cares for,” Kosak told The Sunday Gleaner.
He, too, spoke of the tremendous impact the Jamaican had throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, he said she was a trailblazer and a primary driver in the creation of Connecticut’s first approved COVID-19 testing site.
“She is highly respected by the members of our medical staff as a thought leader in patient care. She works tirelessly and is always available to anyone who needs her,” he said.
Kosak has also personally experienced Mitchell-Richards’ impact, owing to the fact that she has spent countless hours educating him on laboratory medicine. Accordingly, he respects and values her opinions and thoughts, which he says help to shape the way they deliver care at Greenwich Hospital.
Plus, Kosak said, she has shared her rich culture with him, teaching him how to make authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, which his family enjoys throughout the year.
JAMAICA’S LOSS, AMERICA’S GAIN
Dr Mitchell-Richards works for a community hospital that offers emergency room services, a variety of surgical procedures, medical care, and a thriving outpatient reach.
Moving to the United States in 2001, her advancement in that country’s healthcare system, she argues, could be tagged as part of the brain drain discussion that has become popular among Jamaicans.
However, the woman who studies the causes and effects of diseases, through laboratory samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes, reminded The Sunday Gleaner that when she offered her services to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in her home city of Montego Bay, St James, after graduating as a specialist 15 years ago, she felt snubbed.
In 2013, during a Gleaner interview, she said she was refused a face-to-face interview at Cornwall Regional, despite being qualified in anatomic and clinical pathology and forensic pathology at the George Washington University and the University of South Florida.
Today, there remains a chronic shortage of forensic pathologists in Jamaica.
In spite of that disappointment, she has not given up on her homeland and hopes to return to Jamaica one day and open a forensic pathology business, with the determination to make a meaningful contribution to the country’s healthcare system.
BEING VALUED IS POWERFUL AND MEANINGFUL
As Mitchell-Richards celebrates her accomplishments, she humbly admits that the recognition of her work is powerful and meaningful.
“In fact, it is gratifying. You don’t work for an award, but it is nice to get one. We do such tremendous work to support our physicians and our patients. We try to run an efficient lab, an accurate lab and we try to communicate and sometimes over-communicate,” she revealed.
According to her, people think of pathologists as being behind the scenes, and it is sometimes difficult to validate what they do, but earning the Phil McWhorter Physician of the Year Award is demonstrative of a tangible thing.
“For me, it is saying, ‘We see you, we value you, we thank you’, and persons appreciate that,” she noted.
Mitchell-Richards was promoted to medical director within two years on the job at Greenwich, where she has been for six years. A high achiever, before Greenwich, she worked as an assistant pathologist at Yale before being promoted to associate professor.
Greenwich is a full-fledged medical facility, not what could be called a large centre like Yale University, where she spent eight years; but there she works among some of the most phenomenal surgeons in the country, performing procedures such as colorectal and gynaecological surgeries. They also have a very robust breast surgical programme.
For the Jamaica-born doctor, the many people doing blood tests at Greenwich, particularly if they are checking kidney or thyroid function, allow her the feeling of being part of a system that is making lives better.
“People come to our site, send their blood in and we test. Let’s say you get your regular colonoscopy or you have a polyp or you have a breast lump and get a biopsy that gets sent to us. We process and tell the physicians and the patients their reports. We’re a full-service laboratory,” explained the medical doctor.
“We are very interactive. We interact with our physicians, even with our patients. If you call and you have a question, we will absolutely try to resolve that. We also do autopsies but only on patients of Greenwich Hospital,” she added.
FOUNTAIN OF KNOWLEDGE
A double mastectomy cancer survivor, who found a lump in her breast at age 34, Dr Mitchell-Richards has fought many battles and today stands proud and strong, thankful for the blessings bestowed on her.
Twenty-four years as a doctor, 15 years practising, Mitchell-Richards is the daughter of former Montego Bay Deputy Mayor Gerard Mitchell and his wife Lurline, a retired social worker.
She is married to a St Mary-born Jamaican, Amarfio Richards, and together, they nurture their sons – nine-year-old Yves, and Zaza, seven.
Her rise up the ladder of success has not gone unnoticed by her “brother from another mother”, Johann Henry, who considers her the consummate professional, administrator and a results-oriented, natural leader.
“It is mind-boggling to watch her juggle her work and other professional responsibilities and family commitments at the same time, nurturing and being the proverbial rock in so many long-standing friendships. She is effective at multi-tasking – incarnate plus more – all complemented by a wickedly brilliant mind. We are all blessed to have her,” Henry shared with pride.
Dubbed a fountain of knowledge, Mitchell-Richards makes herself accessible to fellow Jamaicans who seek advice on breast cancer issues mainly, revealing that she is ever grateful to hear the word survivor spoken with her name, as lately there has been so much tragedy.
“My heart goes out to so many people. I am ever so grateful all the time for one more time around the sun,” she stated.
She says she has come to realise that experience has given her the ability to help so many other people and she uses every opportunity to do so.