Brownsyne Tucker Edmonds, MD, MPH, MS, was recently awarded the 2020 Outstanding Community Engagement Award by the Indiana University School of Medicine Faculty Community Relations Committee in recognition of her passionate community engagement.
Her drive to eliminate health disparities, advance social justice, and promote professionalism and humanism in the care of minority populations shapes her career as a clinician, researcher, faculty member and community advocate.
Shaping Her Calling
“Who my parents are is as important as anything about who I am. They were the first in the family to have the opportunity to get a higher education,” said Tucker Edmonds.
Both from Memphis, Tennessee, her father and mother came of age at the height of the civil rights movement. They were among the first cohorts of Black students to integrate their college colleges, requiring police escorts on and off the campus grounds. The night before Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, her mother was sitting in Bishop Charles Mason Temple, listening to his last speech.
Their careers began in Nashville, where her father worked in pharmaceutical sales and her mother as a special education teacher. However, some friends and associates recognized her father’s propensity for the medical sciences. After some encouragement, he participated in a prep program and successfully matriculated at Meharry Medical School. He would go on to complete residency at Emory University. He became an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB/GYN) physician, and two of his children eventually followed in his footsteps.
Learning from her parents’ example grounded Tucker Edmonds early in life. Her mother is very hospitable, always extending an invitation to whomever needed a place to stay, she observed. Her father worked in a settings which cared for underserved populations. Over the dinner table, she would listen to him talk about challenges and opportunities.
Initially, Tucker Edmonds considered going into health care administration, especially after hearing about some of the challenges patients had navigating the Medicaid system. However, over time, a strong affinity for obstetrics and gynecology grew--but she would maintain her interest in policy and have opportunities to impact the Medicaid system later on in her career.
Knowing that she wanted to be a doctor as a high school student, Tucker Edmonds enrolled in Brown University’s combined BA/MD program. In addition to medical sciences classes, she took courses in community health and African American studies. This broadened her perspective as she began to think about herself as a member of a broader, global community of color. Between her third and fourth years of medical school, she completed a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health. That same year, she got engaged to Joseph Tucker Edmonds, PhD, MDiv, and both would go on to be accepted to programs at Duke University: Tucker Edmonds matching into an OB/GYN residency program, while her husband earned his PhD in religious studies.
At the time, the chair of Duke’s OB/GYN department was Haywood Brown, MD, one of the few Black department chairs in the country. Under his leadership, an unprecedented number of black residents trained at Duke’s program. Tucker Edmonds remains close to a cohort of six black women who all trained together under Brown.
Upon finishing residency training, Tucker Edmonds went on to complete the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania while simultaneously earning a master’s in health policy research from the same institution. She went on to complete fellowships through the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics at Indiana University, the National Academy of Medicine, and is currently a fellow in The Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) Program for Women.
Advancing Equity Through Research
In 2011, Indiana University recruited both Tucker Edmonds and her husband to join its faculty. Joseph Tucker Edmonds is assistant professor of Africana studies and religious studies in the School of Liberal Arts, and Brownsyne Tucker Edmonds is associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of pediatrics in the School of Medicine. Her initial appointment allowed her to dedicate 75 percent of her time to research and 25 percent of her time to clinical practice, which is not common. She greatly appreciated the willingness of the department and IU School of Medicine to support the need for more research around health services and health care disparities among marginalized communities. Today, Tucker Edmonds is nationally and internationally recognized for her research in disparities, shared decision-making, and periviable care.
“Brownsyne’s research has taken a humanistic approach to the most complicated of medical scenarios, said Anthony Shanks, MD, FACOG, vice chair of education for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “She has strived to identify approaches that would benefit patients from marginalized or minority groups. This challenging work is vital and directly impacts the community that we care for.”
Tucker Edmonds’ research strives to improve patient-provider interactions. Facilitating a shared decision-making approach in periviable care benefits parents’ long-term mental health and doctor-patient encounters.
“In working closely with Dr. Tucker Edmonds, I have come to understand that she is passionate about eliminating health disparities, advancing social justice and promoting patient-centeredness and respect in the care of underserved populations, among colleagues, medical students and trainees. It’s an honor to have such a talented leader on our team, and I’m delighted to see her recognized with this award,” said Mary Dankoski, PhD, executive associate dean for Faculty Affairs, Professional Development and Diversity.
Tucker Edmonds was recently named vice chair of faculty development and diversity for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She works with faculty to develop individual development plans, advises on promotion and tenure progression, oversees wellness efforts, and advances the department’s ongoing work in diversity, equity and inclusion.
In the wake of the George Floyd case and the social unrest that followed, she sought a way to improve her department’s ability to acknowledge and respond to racial issues.
“I felt like we had to do something. There was a degree of urgency to create space to discuss what was happening. It was important, especially given the emotional labor, taxation and racial battle fatigue that a minoritized few were facing due to multiple requests to educate the majority. We needed to help white people talk to white people about race and anti-racism,” said Tucker Edmonds.
Allies Welcomed to Advance Racial Equity (A.W.A.R.E.) was a six-week faculty development summer series which will continue as a department-wide series in the OB/GYN department. The weekly sessions involve a faculty member sharing literature highlighting social justice and presenting it to the department in a grand rounds format.
“These sessions left an indelible impression on all participants. The goal was to become better allies for our colleagues, better teachers for our minority students, and provide more compassionate care for our patients from underrepresented groups. This altruistic vision would not be possible without her tireless efforts,” said Shanks on behalf of the department.
Advocacy in the Community
Tucker Edmonds has made significant contributions in the community through her work with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). At the national level, she previously served on ACOG’s Committee on Ethics. Currently, she serves on ACOG’s Committee on Government Affairs, the Taskforce on Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence, and is chair of the Indiana Section.
In this capacity, she advocated legislation to increase and improve access to maternity and reproductive health care for Hoosier women. She provided expert testimony on countless pieces of legislation, addressing topics ranging from cervical cancer prevention to reproductive rights. She worked closely with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition to address Black maternal mortality: speaking at town halls, serving in panel discussions, filming roundtables, and providing interviews to the local and regional press.
“I have great friends at the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, and they are doing amazing work about the elevated risk of black maternal mortality. We want to keep that conversation at the forefront. It is important to engage the public from a safety and awareness standpoint, but we strive to push the envelope in the advocacy space. What is going to be our state’s response? What is the responsibility at the level of policy? And for providers, what can we do at the level of practice? This alarming trend is demanding us to shift our policies and practices to be responsive to Black women’s needs. Those are the conversations I try to be a part of,” said Tucker Edmonds.
She has worked closely with the Indiana State Department of Health, serving on the Indiana Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative to address Perinatal Substance Use. Circling back to her childhood aspiration, she served on the Medicaid Medical Advisory Board. Tucker Edmonds worked with the Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning to expand contraceptive access by gaining reimbursement for immediate postpartum, long-acting, reversible contraceptives (IPP LARC) for women in Indiana.
In recent months, she has been an advocate in the community for addressing COVID-19-related health care disparities. Throughout the pandemic, she has presented and co-authored commentaries related to the impact of COVID-19 on health disparities, safe maternity care and access to sexual and reproductive health.
Shifting Systems and Spaces
Throughout her tenure, Tucker Edmonds has found ways to enter into spaces, and sometimes create them herself, to improve the lives of patients, learners and colleagues, supporting those who may be marginalized in academic medicine or the health care system.
“Dr. Tucker Edmonds brings outstanding training, tremendous intellect, and diversity of experience and perspective to bear on questions of research and policy, thereby representing the very best of what we hope to promote and foster as we invest in the future leaders in our field,” said Jeffrey Peipert, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Nikki Livingston is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity. She earned a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Drama at Spelman College.
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