An Interview With Impact Leader Annyella Douglas, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Annyella Douglas, MD, an individual who is making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine. Dr. Douglas is interviewed by Kayla Clark, VisualDx Student Advisory Board member.

Dr. Douglas
Tell me a little about yourself. Where you are from, where did you go to medical school, and where are you in your medical journey?

Dr. Douglas: My name is Annyella Douglas. I am a doctor from Brooklyn, New York. My family is from Trinidad and Tobago and I was raised by a single mother. I am a first-generation American and a first-generation physician.

I went to medical school at Penn State College of Medicine in Hersey, Pennsylvania and I am currently doing my dermatology residency in Philadelphia at Thomas Jefferson University.

What are your responsibilities as a resident physician?

Dr. Douglas: As a resident physician, my primary role is to take care of patients. However, although I am a physician, I am still in training and am overseen by a supervising doctor—the attending physician. Attending physicians are doctors that have already completed residency. I see my patients first without my attending physician and then I present my clinician findings and potential treatment plan to the attending. Next, the attending will give me feedback regarding my clinical assessment and whether or not I should make any changes to my proposed treatment plan.

It is important to note that as a resident physician, I am still learning. This means that sometimes when the attending evaluates the patient, they may change the diagnosis and plan completely—and this is okay. I realize that I am learning and my clinical skills will continue to improve with time.

What are your favorite aspects of residency? 

Dr. Douglas: What I enjoy most about residency is having the time to learn. Dermatology is a very specialized field and in medical school we are exposed to very little of it. In residency, one of the best ways for me to learn has been in my resident clinic. What makes this resident clinic unique is that patients are scheduled under my name to see me. Normally, patients are scheduled with the attending physician, and I see their patients.

The benefit to resident clinic is that I follow my patients longitudinally. This is an invaluable experience because I can see if my treatment plans are working. I am also able to work on my treatment style as a clinician, but with the help of an attending physician who is available if I need it.

What are you currently working on that addresses healthcare equity? 

Dr. Douglas: Being raised in a medically underserved area, I realized that there were not many dermatologists in my neighborhood. When I did need a dermatologist, I had to travel very far to be seen. Also, when I started exploring medicine, I did not consider pursuing dermatology, because I had not seen many dermatologists that looked like me throughout my life. Therefore, mentorship is a passion of mine.

Diversifying medicine is an imperative step in addressing healthcare equity. I want to show aspiring doctors that if I can do it then they can, too.

Prior to starting residency, I started a mentorship program between my medical school and a historically black college and university (HBCU) to help recruit and retain students that are underrepresented in medicine into the field. When I started residency during the COVID-19 pandemic, this greatly limited my ability to do in-person mentorship. Thus, my YouTube channel was born out of my desire to reach a broader audience despite the inability to mentor in person due to the pandemic.

I also wanted to find a way to make matriculating into medical school a more manageable and streamlined process, while providing transparency to my career as a dermatology resident. Fortunately, I have mentored many students through social media, and I was surprised that there are so many other first-generation aspiring physicians in need of guidance, just as I once was.

Not only has my outreach on social media helped aspiring physicians, but it has also helped me. Through the interactions that I have had with mentees I have become more aware of specific areas of improvement in medicine that can make this career more accessible to people from all different walks of life.

In addition to my YouTube channel, I am working on multiple research projects focused on disorders that disproportionately affect the African American community. Unfortunately, there is often very limited research and/or treatment options for conditions that disproportionately affect minority patients.

Lastly, I am assisting my residency program with developing a skin of color curriculum.

What or who inspired you to become a physician?

Dr. Douglas: I am a non-traditional physician and it was a journey to get here. I was originally a biochemistry major in college, but while taking courses, I began to question if I would be able to use my degree after graduating. I decided to change my major to anthropology and it was in my biological anthropology courses that I learned about healthcare disparities. This fueled my desire to become a physician. Anthropology helped me integrate my experiences growing up in an underserved area and exposed me to the potential role I could play in reducing healthcare disparities as a physician. This ultimately solidified my choice to become a physician.

What advice would you give to medical students or other residents interested in addressing healthcare disparities?

Dr. Douglas: Do not let anyone limit what you can do. There was not an active Student National Medical Association (SNMA) chapter at my medical school, but I worked with other like-minded students to get our chapter re-started. We did not allow the fact that the chapter was no longer active to discourage us, and not only did we reinitiate the chapter, but we also hosted very successful outreach events and started a mentorship program.

I would also tell students interviewing for residency to be transparent about their goals to do outreach and advocacy work during residency. This will allow students to gauge how each potential program can support them in their future endeavors. Fortunately, I did this on the interview trail and Jefferson has been amazing with supporting me. I have an outstanding mentor and I have grown tremendously here.

Passion is salient for success. The only reason that I can handle all my extracurricular activities as well as the demands of residency is because this work is extremely important to me, and when I get tired it pushes me to keep going.

Lastly, it is important for resident physicians to understand that although mentorship and research are wonderful, the number one priority is becoming a good doctor. Therefore, I prioritize studying and knowing when my other interests must take a back seat. However, I hope as an attending physician that I will have more time for these interests.

How do you pledge to make an impact to improve health equity?

Dr. Douglas: I pledge to remember why I went into medicine and to be conscientious of all the lives that I may potentially impact through my efforts as a physician. As I previously said, I grew up in a community where I saw heath disparities frequently. Because of this I knew that I wanted to help people and I ultimately chose to do that through medicine.

Also, I am aware that one of the contributing factors to health disparities is the lack of research and initiatives to end disparities in medicine. I pledge to remember this and to keep working toward making medicine more equitable for all.