Hidden History: African-American women overcome challenges in the medical field

Fresno California - Each morning Dr. Gail mallard warren is presented with the gift of opportunity. She shares with her patients in the form of better health, education & life

“Good morning,”  said  Dr. Gail Warren as she addressed her staff on a recent visit.

“As an ob-gyn, we practiced medicine plus we are surgeons,” Gail said

Warren recalls the difficult journey through medical school at UC Davis.

“(There were) not a lot but there were a few of us.”

“We studied and worked hard together.”

For Warren, the daughter of a science teacher and an educator, the lessons of being twice as good to attain the same position was a time-honored principle. She took to heart

“I finished 4 studies in 3 years I took a lot of units.”  

About 2500 miles away in the town of Orrville, Ohio the same principles were being drilled into another young mind. The future Dr. Carolyn Drake.

“I always liked the nurses.”

“All of my life I kind of was a person that would just help people it just helped me that this is what I am going to be,” Drake recalled

In Orrville, a town of roughly 7,000 people, African-Americans made up less than 10 percent. Drake explains how she felt receiving word about her first medical offer and the enormous pressure that accompanied it.

“They would take a chance on the job and if I did well they would hire other African-Americans and if not,  they would hire no African-Americans,” Drake mentioned from her seat in the FCC Nursing lab.

Initially, she felt nervous but, calm words from a strong father allowed her to continue.

“You're going to take that job and you're going to do well.” She describes him saying

A few years later she would take her talents to the west coast working in public health, then later to the now-closed  Valley Medical Center.

“I told them I want to work clinics I took a chance,” Drake said

Looking to forge a stronger bond with medical professionals, Drake was instrumental in the establishment of the Central Valley Black Nurses Association.

“We were glad to see each other because African-American nurse all experience the same thing.”

Dr. Drake would take a teaching position at Fresno City College. Later she was promoted to the head of the nursing program, and then to the Dean of the Health and Sciences Division.

During her role as the director of the nursing program, she made many improvements.  From erecting a new facility complete with lecture halls and multiple labs   She was also instrumental in creating a training program at local area hospitals. The program took hospital employees and molded them into RN's.

“Community, Children's Kaiser and Saint Agnes Madera,” Drake recalled all of the hospitals where she had trained people to work.

During her decade’s long tenure, Drake saw numbers in the program grow from 90 to 600 students.

Interestingly enough, Along Mallard’s way she and Dr. Drake crossed paths.

“When I first came to Fresno and started my residency she was a nursing instructor there at VMC. Her nursing students all the time were getting us confused.” Warren recalled

Following that residency warren entered private practice.

“This one was -- he was 13 pounds, 1 ounce through C-section.” Warren says while pointing out a picture of one of the newborn’s she recently delivered. Staff had made a canvas picture made from a photo that hung on the wall of the office.

“I delivered that child's child the mom said you just delivered my grand-baby this is him and she sent me the picture,” Warren said while pointing to another.

On the road to retirement, Dr. Drake has been honored for her service is one of three women to be placed on the wall of honor at Fresno city and in the nursing hall of fame at Fresno State.

“If I can do it you can do it. That is one of the most important things.” Drake enthusiastically said while sharing the encouraging words.

Don't Miss

Trending Stories

Latest News