Dr. Andrea Lach Dean, a double major in Africana Studies and Biology, recently spoke with Africana Studies about her life after graduating from Luther in 2005. She is currently Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine in the Department of Pediatric Hospital Medicine.
Andrea came to Luther from the Twin Cities with no concept of Africana Studies as a possible major, even though she grew up in a family that valued diversity and sent her to a very diverse high school. She came to Luther with the color-blind ideas common to her generation. She had learned as a child that we were all the same and that, while there had been racism in the past, now everyone was equal with regards to race and the only problems were lack of educational and financial opportunities. Despite her four years at a very diverse high school (or perhaps because of it), she came to Luther very scared of race as a reality.
A month after arriving at Luther, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. All of a sudden, Andrea and the new friends she had met in during first-year orientation had to talk about people who were Muslim and from the Middle East. It opened up all sorts of topics that had been off limits to her and her friends before. She now feels she was lucky to be a first year at Luther and to be taking Paideia in that moment as they began to talk about all the things they had previously been scared to talk about. She says her first year “professors allowed me to grow and be scared in the ways I needed to be. They taught me about what privilege is.”
Andrea became involved in a student diversity action coalition, filled by students wanting to understand September 11 and the Anti-Arab, Anti-Muslim sentiments that arose in the nation afterwards. She became really interested in racial profiling and policing in African American communities.
While her general interest in the field was growing, it was not until she took an English class with Novian Whitsitt on African literature that she encountered Africana Studies. In that class, she fell in love with African literature and after taking several more classes, realized she could add an Africana major to her biology major. In a class on Caribbean Women’s Literature with Novian, she said, “I learned to read insightfully and to talk about race. I also started to contemplate how I felt so different from the women writing the stories in the Caribbean and yet also felt so connected to what they were writing as a woman.”
In her junior year, Andrea decided to find a way to study abroad in Africa during her senior year, even though it can be quite difficult for science majors to find the time in their schedule. She had been inspired to study away for a longer time frame after her J-Term Central America Paideia capstone class (now called Paideia 450). It was during this J-Term travelling and studying Liberation Theology with a religion professor that she realized all the connections and disconnections between gender, race, and sexuality.
Andrea found a way to complete her two majors during her senior year in Namibia. She struggled to connect everything she learned there about the academic study of race, gender, class in Africa with medicine, her intended profession since her first days at Luther. Yet she was determined to find a connection.
In Namibia, she worked at a clinic for HIV orphans and at risk children (those who had lost one parent). Before she arrived, she had had no thought of being involved in the treatment or study of HIV. When she arrived, she realized that the clinic was a microcosm of race, class, and gender issues in the world and she realized that she’d found a way to combine her Biology and Africana Studies majors through medicine.
Andrea emphasized the role Novian played in her life at Luther; she is “so grateful for Novian, who was such a good role model for me. If I hadn’t done the Africana Studies major and hadn’t gotten my feet on the ground in Africa, it would have been so easy to go into medicine without any idea of what the world looks like.” One of her mentors in the physician world noted that her ability to see the relationship between health care disparities and health outcomes “is so unique in the field of medicine.” Wherever her career takes her, she plans to root it in figuring out why there is such a vast system of health care disparity in the United States and what can be done to change that disparity and its affects.
Brown Medical School
After graduating from Luther in 2005, Andrea worked with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp in Oakland California, where she served at a Native American Health Center. She then entered Brown University for Medical School in 2007.
At Brown, she encountered students completely unlike those she was used to at Luther. They kept asking if she was glad she had gone to Luther in the rural Midwest. She said yes because of the race, gender, and sexuality professors at Luther. She was amazed at the professors she had contact with at Luther, contact that would have been difficult at a larger school. She also told her medical school colleagues that “being at Luther was wonderful because of the flexibility in forging a path towards connecting the dots between my two passions.”
In the middle of medical school, she took an extra year to accept a Doris Duke Fellowship that took her to South Africa. In Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, she engaged in work for the prevention of mother to child HIV transmission, which is the single most effect public health intervention in stopping the spread of AIDs. It can prevent pediatric HIV from being a reality. This residency also taught her how essential social support was for women on treatment.
Residency in Houston and Malawi
After graduating from Brown in 2011, she began a pediatric residency program in Houston with the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at the Texas Children’s Hospital, the largest pediatric HIV program in the world. They have a linked program that allows residents to do a year abroad and then a year in Houston. She chose to go to Malawi, a country in Southeastern Africa, because it was most resource poor place to go to.
It was a very challenging year for her in Malawi because of the extent of the poverty and sickness she faced every day. She had to confront all the academic ideas about race she had talked about in class. She kept asking whether these ideas were relevant for the people she worked among in Malawi. At the end of the year, she reconciled the academic and day to day demands of her clinic by seeing the structural issues that leads to children without basic health care. Seeing those issues has helped her find a career path that gives her the ability to treat individual patients and larger public health injustices.
In her current work at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Andrea is part of a team that is developing a Global Health curriculum for residents. An article just was published by her leaders that showed how difficult it is for young physicians to return from clinical work in resource poor settings. She recently won the Texas Pediatric Society poster contest with a case report entitled, “Severe HIV disease in a rapid antibody negative infant infected after late maternal incident HIV infection: A case report from Lilongwe, Malawi.” You may read more about the case here.
Thank you Dr. Dean for sharing about your life since you graduated!
“Andrea Lach Dean MD’11 and Rory Merritt ’09 MD’13: A place for HIV in queer dialogue” Brown Daily Herald (November 5, 2010).
Rebecca Kaufman, “Global Health: A fellowship in South Africa opens student’s eyes to health care in America” The Beat: Brown Medicine Magazine (Winter 2011).
Dean AL, Makin JD, Kydd AS, Biriotti M, Forsyth BW. A pilot study using interactive SMS support groups to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in South Africa. 2012 Oct: PubMed.gov.