An Interview With Impact Leader Leandra Barnes, MD

We’re shining the ProjectIMPACT Spotlight on Dr. Leandra Barnes, who is making a positive impact in dermatology by focusing on its intersections with public health and racial disparities. Dr. Barnes, an Instructor of Dermatology within the Department of Dermatology at Stanford School of Medicine, was interviewed by Afua Ofori-Darko, a second-year medical student at Case Western Reserve University and VisualDx Student Advisory Board member.

Tell me a little about yourself! Where are you from? Can you please describe your job and your favorite aspects of your current position?

Dr. Barnes: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and immigrated to the United States with my family as a baby. I spent most of my childhood in the Deep South, specifically Georgia and Hoover, Alabama. I completed my undergraduate education at Harvard, where I was interested in molecular and cellular biology and conducting research in bacteria. I ultimately decided to pursue medical school at Stanford, where I realized that being a Black, first-generation immigrant from the Deep South very much informed how I look at medicine, society, and the extracurriculars I was involved in. My journey into dermatology was driven by a desire to make a tangible difference, as despite its immense potential, it lacked diversity.

Currently, the majority of my time is dedicated to conducting research, mainly focusing on hidradenitis suppurativa, a condition that disproportionately affects women of color. Alongside this, I’m passionately engaged in projects aimed at diversifying medicine, especially pathways into dermatology for underrepresented communities. Moreover, I am the director of advocacy, equity, and inclusion in our department, where I work on initiatives to foster diversity and inclusivity. Additionally, I’m actively involved in broader university-wide efforts toward the same goals.

In my clinical capacity, I recognized the necessity for improved representation and care for communities of color within dermatology. This realization led me to found the skin of color program at Stanford, where I strive to create a supportive and culturally sensitive space for individuals with diverse skin conditions, ensuring they receive comprehensive care tailored to their unique needs.

My journey has been driven by a passion for creating positive change in healthcare, particularly for marginalized communities. Through my diverse roles, I aim to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable healthcare landscape, especially within dermatology.

who or what inspires you?

Dr. Barnes: My inspiration stems from various sources, but two significant influences stand out in shaping my outlook and determination. Firstly, my parents are a primary source of inspiration. Witnessing their unwavering determination and work ethic in bringing our family to the States has been immensely impactful. From an early age, my father instilled in me the importance of an internal locus of control, emphasizing that while external factors might be beyond our grasp, our thoughts and reactions are within our control. This mindset has guided me, especially during challenging times, helping me maintain a resilient attitude.

Secondly, Dr. Ginette Okoye stands out as a beacon among the many mentors who have played pivotal roles in my life. Her mentorship has been nothing short of transformative. I almost dismissed the idea of pursuing dermatology. However, Dr. Okoye reached out to me and provided unwavering support and guidance. Her encouragement and roadmap enabled me to envision my path in dermatology, especially in areas where representation and diversity were lacking.

This experience ignited my passion for making a difference in dermatology, particularly in advocating for skin of color representation and inclusivity. Dr. Okoye’s mentorship not only helped me recognize this need but also empowered me to take proactive steps to address it. Her guidance has been instrumental in shaping my journey and fueling my dedication to creating a more inclusive and diverse landscape within dermatology.

You’ve done a significant amount of work at the intersection of public health and dermatology. As you begin your academic dermatology career, what direction do you want to move in regarding this intersection?

Dr. Barnes: In navigating the intersection of public health and dermatology, I firmly believe in identifying and addressing underlying issues. For me, this involves comprehensive data collection to substantiate the necessity for change and improvement in patient care and training across the board. To advance in this direction, I plan to pursue an MPH to refine my methodological skills and expand my network within this domain. However, one of my core objectives remain to establish a robust skin of color program. This initiative encompasses more than just clinical services; it aims to create a multifaceted platform.

Firstly, it involves establishing a comprehensive clinical presence that provides medical and procedural care and serves as a teaching platform. The aim is to educate trainees and colleagues to ensure inclusive and equitable care for all individuals. Simultaneously, a significant portion of my efforts is directed towards research. This includes community-based research initiatives and providing diverse representation in clinical trials and basic science studies. It’s vital to have samples from various racial backgrounds to validate the applicability of research findings to broader populations.

I’ve drawn inspiration from efforts in other regions, such as Boston’s policies addressing hairstyles, highlighting the importance of ensuring a welcoming and supportive environment for all patients.

Ultimately, my vision for the future involves integrating these four key facets:

  1. data-driven approach,
  2. comprehensive clinical care,
  3. inclusive research, and
  4. advocacy

to shape a more equitable and holistic public health-oriented dermatological care system for patients at Stanford and beyond.

How do you navigate the balance between being a leader in advocating for diversity in medicine while also emphasizing the importance of collective responsibility and support from the broader medical community?

Dr. Barnes: Navigating the balance between advocating for diversity in medicine and fostering collective responsibility within the medical community is crucial. At Stanford, I’ve found support and alliance, notably with individuals like Dr. Eleni Linos, Dr. Terrance Mayes, and Dr. Lahia Yemane, who are dedicated to improving clinical outcomes and trainee experiences during residency and medical school.

Having allies in the department who care about these issues is crucial. Providing a clear path for action has been instrumental, as lived experiences often inform the problems we identify. As someone committed to this cause, I’ve taken proactive steps, such as revamping our residency interview application process and advocating for a more comprehensive approach to evaluating applicants.

Recognizing that not all environments may be as receptive, research can play a pivotal role in advocating for necessary changes. By demonstrating the importance of diversity initiatives through research findings and aligning them with our collective goal of optimizing health equity and patient care, we can articulate the significance of these changes compellingly.


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

Dr. Barnes: For medical students or residents interested in tackling healthcare disparities, I highly emphasize the significance of seeking out mentors. Establishing connections with individuals who share similar passions is pivotal, especially during the early stages of training when pioneering initiatives alone can be challenging.

Additionally, consider seeking mentors beyond your specific field. I’ve found immense value in diverse perspectives; for instance, one of my most cherished mentors works in psychology, and they offer unique insights that complement and broaden my understanding beyond dermatology.

Developing a network of mentors can provide diverse viewpoints and support crucial for addressing healthcare disparities effectively. Moreover, actively engaging with societies dedicated to addressing these disparities, such as SNMA, Just NMA, Skin of Color Society, and others, is invaluable. These organizations offer platforms to connect with like-minded individuals, fostering collaboration and the collective advancement of initiatives focused on addressing healthcare disparities.

Remember the importance of collaboration and support networks in driving meaningful change. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Collaborative efforts and a robust support network have profoundly influenced my progress in this field.

This Project IMPACT blog series was created to highlight leaders who are making a positive impact in healthcare by reducing racial bias in medicine.



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