Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice is having a great week.
Not only will the president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine be delivering a commencement address at her alma mater, Georgia Institute of Technology, but also she and her colleagues kicked off a $250,000 lectureship endowment with a convocation featuring two Nobel Prize recipients on Tuesday.
Last Thursday, Dr. Montgomery Rice sat with our managing editor Dawn Montgomery-Greene — no relation — to discuss the dean’s plan for growing the Morehouse School of Medicine and increase its footprint on the state of Georgia. Following is a collection of excerpts from that interview:
It’s Women’s History Month and you have been selected as our final commemorative cover story for the month. Can you talk about your place here and what you have been able to do here at the Morehouse School of Medicine?
RICE: I am six years in and four years as the president and dean. I am very excited about what we have been able to accomplish here. No one does this work alone. The biggest things that are happening here at Morehouse School of Medicine include an announcement five years ago that we would be growing our class size to admit 100 students. When I got here in 2011, we were at 56 MD students per year and this year we enrolled 100 students per year.
We also committed to all of our other programs growing by 20 percent. We are so excited. And the reason we are so excited about that is that the state of Georgia and the nation needs us.
119 of 159 counties in the state of Georgia are underserved. We have been so successful over the years with about 65 percent of our graduates choosing to come back and practice in the state of Georgia and practice in these underserved areas.
We felt like if we increase our class size, continuing not to shy away from the excellence in attracting students who are really committed to the community, that we would have an even greater impact. We are definitely seeing that.
Why is important that, as a woman, you’re in a position to inspire the women students who choose to matriculate here?
RICE: The Morehouse School of Medicine is about 43 years old. We were founded under Morehouse College — an all-male school—but soon thereafter, we became independent, secured our own LCMA accreditation and started graduating students from the four-year program.
We have always had male and female students, even though we love having been birthed from Morehouse College because it has a rich history —150 years of making a difference in the community.
What it has meant for me to be the first woman to lead this institution, is really continuing our quest for equity and demonstrating that all is possible.
I’m from Georgia, so of course, I understand the history of Morehouse College and Morehouse School of Medicine; I also appreciate that women have not always had equal opportunity and so, me sitting in this role, I have been able to add additional perspective on why it’s important to be very inclusive as we lead the creation and advancement of health equity.
How do you feel about maternal health and some of the other health disparities that black women in particular face in the current healthcare environment?
Many probably know that I’m an OBGYN/reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist and I have the fortune of completing my OBGYN residency training at Grady through the Emory program.
At the time, while I was at Grady, I clearly saw the disparities in women’s health. Also, at that time, Grady was performing as many as 10,000 deliveries a year. Men and women were coming without prenatal care. Now that has definitely changed in this country. These changes have led to a decrease in maternal mortality.However, we have not seen a drop enough in maternal mortality that has gotten us out of the 10th percentile.
Black women and the state of Georgia is still at the top of the game when it comes to maternal mortality. The state of Georgia ranks 48 out of 50 for maternal mortality. Black women, of course, lead the rate of maternal mortality, no matter which state you look at.
That tells me we have to do more. More mean that first of all, we have decreased and prevented teen pregnancy. We have a wonderful program here that covers five counties enrolling students as early as the 8th grade in engaging students — men and women — to in a longitudinal program through high school. We’re so proud of our pregnancy prevention program.
What that tells us is that, with the right intervention in place, we can make a difference.