On March 1, the Patricia Treadwell, MD, Women in Medicine Lecture will honor Marly Bradley, MD, JD, FAAP, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and ombudsperson at IU School of Medicine. Clinically, she practices primary care pediatrics at Eskenazi Health. Both the speaker and the lecture’s namesake have unique experiences as Black women in medicine—experiences which have motivated them to improve inclusivity in academic medicine and empower future physicians.
Her advice to people of color in medicine is to “find a mentor who can give advice about how to navigate some of the challenges.” One of her mentors was Evan Farmer, MD, former chair of IU School of Medicine Department of Dermatology.
“He encouraged me to go up to full professor, and knew lots of details and helped with the dossier.” As a result, Treadwell is the first and only African American woman at IU School of Medicine who is a full professor with tenure.
Bradley understands those intersections of race and gender all too well. She was born on the South Side of Chicago. At age nine, her family moved to the south suburbs, close to Merrillville, Indiana. She went from attending an all-Black Catholic school to a predominately white Catholic school in the suburbs.
From childhood, she always had conscience around issues of non-bullying. “I had a friend in my class who was white. We both were teased for different reasons, and we both defended one another,” said Bradley. Those experiences developed a passion for advocacy and social justice.
Bradley knew she wanted to be a doctor since grade school. Her father worked in a hospital as a laboratory technician, and her mother and aunts were nurses. Her parents were very encouraging. When Bradley expressed interested in medicine, they told her, “If you want to be in medicine, be a doctor. You can do anything you can put your mind to.”
In 1987, she went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to earn a biology pre-med undergraduate degree. However, she noticed that some of her friends of color on the pre-med track did not receive as much support from advisors and counselors. Some of her closest friends were told to do something else besides medical school, even though their performance was similar to white colleagues. Thankfully, her friends persisted and are successful physicians today.
Treadwell also faced discrimination, many years prior. When applying to her first choice for medical school, she was told explicitly that the interviewer did not like having women or Blacks at the school.
Bradley, too, had to persevere, particularly when she was met with personal challenges during her junior year. There were five deaths among close family and friends. The grief affected her and she reconsidered attending medical school. Her desire for fairness and justice had only grown, and she decided to switch career paths, applying for law school. She took the LSAT and was accepted to University of Illinois -Champaign College of Law.
However, as she worked through her grief entering her senior year, she said to herself, “Who am I kidding? I still want to be a doctor.” She applied to the joint MD/JD at the same school and was accepted.
There was a strong mentorship network in the medical school, and they were intentional about supporting students of color. She recalls her mentors, Imhotep Carter, MD, Francis Emeka Ihejirika, MD, Uretz Oliphant, MD, and James Shepherd, MD, being an invaluable resource and source of encouragement. Bradley passed the Illinois bar exam during her last year in medical school. Earning her JD degree in 1996 and MD degree in 1997, she is the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign joint MD/JD program.
During her pediatric residency at Northwestern University at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, she met her husband, who was in Michigan at the time. As she completed residency in 2000, he was in the process of moving to Indianapolis. They married, initially planning to be in Indianapolis for two years, which has now turned into 20!
Bradley came to IU School of Medicine through a referral from her former residency director, who had a connection to the pediatrics department. She started off by practicing at Riley Hospital for Children in the emergency room on nights and weekends. One of her colleagues, Abigail Klemsz, MD, PhD, assistant dean for academic advising, was the chair of the Teacher Learner Advocacy Committee (TLAC) at the time.
TLAC fosters a positive and professional learning environment by sponsoring initiatives, outreach and educational programming aimed at enhancing communication and professionalism in all learning environments at IU School of Medicine. At the time, the committee also monitored reports of mistreatment and provided a critical advisory role for the school’s efforts to ensure a professional teaching and learning environment.
“Dr. Bradley and I became friends working together at Riley. When I was tasked with adding members to the TLAC committee, she was an obvious choice. Her interactions with students and faculty alike had gained her the trust and respect of both students and peers. Her understanding of diversity issues made her invaluable to our mission as a committee and as a school,” said Klemsz.
While serving on the TLAC committee, Bradley also completed the Fairbanks Fellowship in Clinical Ethics sponsored by the Charles Warren Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics. A few years later, Bradley succeeded Klemsz as chair and led the committee for eight years from 2009-2017. As the committee and school re-evaluated how to address mistreatment, Joseph DiMicco, PhD, opened the Ombuds office in November 2016, becoming the first ombudsperson. One year later, Bradley partnered with him, and together, their office helps faculty and learners on all nine campuses as a confidential, neutral, informal and independent party.
“Even though the ombuds remain neutral, we always advocate for fairness. That is something I feel strongly about within medicine and outside of medicine,” said Bradley.
Due to the nature of confidentiality, laws and policy, parties who bring complaints may not always be aware of the resulting action of their particular case. However, IU School of Medicine takes all matters seriously and handles each with the utmost concern, Bradley said.
“There are a variety of actions that may result. It could be as simple as mediated conversation or a systemic change for everyone’s benefit. As ombudspersons, we impact change mostly by empowering others to help themselves. We do our very best to address concerns completely and thoroughly.
“If you have concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. What makes our office unique is that you have the freedom to share confidentially without the pressure of moving forward if you are not ready yet,” said Bradley.
Interested in learning more? Join Marly Bradley, MD, JD, FAA at the Patricia Treadwell, MD, Women in Medicine Lecture on Monday, March 1, from noon – 1 p.m. Faculty, learners and staff, as well as the broader community, are invited to register for this event.
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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