Children’s Doctor Arlene E. Haywood has served the health care needs of Broward County kids for over 30 years
Dr. Arlene E. Haywood first graced the front page of the Westside Gazette Newspaper’s Sunday Edition on Sept. 26, 1982. Today, Dr. Haywood still continues meeting the healthcare needs of thousands of patients at her practice in Plantation, Fla.
By Charles Moseley
When the Westside Gazette Newspaper first reported on Dr. Arlene E. Haywood becoming Broward County’s first Black female pediatrician, a U.S. postal stamp would run you 20 cents, the L.A. Lakers were World NBA Champions, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller album sold a record breaking 25 million copies, making it the highest selling album in history. Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States. The year was 1982.
Beginning back in the 1940’s a small group of Black physicians such as Dr. James Sistrunk, Dr. Von D. Mizell, Dr. Thomas Walker, and Dr. Calvin H. Shirley, traveled throughout Broward County making house calls to address the healthcare needs of the Black community.
Today, thirty two years later not only do stamps cost more than twice as much, everything we buy is considerably more expensive. The Miami Heat has won back-to-back NBA World Championships, and the King of Pop is no longer with us. America’s first Black President, Barack Hussein Obama is in his second term in office.
Much has changed in Broward County as well; especially in the area of healthcare, where there are literally hundreds of Black physicians practicing medicine countywide, in every discipline imaginable.
In 1982 Dr. Haywood was the lone Black pediatrician locally, today she continues to practice medicine in her Plantation office, serving the needs of children from every socio-economic and ethnic back-ground in South Florida’s ever growing melting pot.
Dr. Haywood is a native New Yorker; she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. in 1971 before earning a medical degree from Howard University in 1975. After graduating from Howard’s School of Medicine, she began practicing medicine at D.C. General Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Throughout her 32 years of medical practice, Dr. Haywood has received numerous honors and affiliations, some of which include: Physician Recognition Award, United States Achievement Award, Florida Pediatric Society James Sistrunk Medical Society, and Urban League of Broward County.
In honor of Black History Month the Westside Gazette Newspaper recently revisited Dr. Haywood to update our readership on some of her thoughts and experiences over the years.
Westside Gazette (WG): When and why did you decide to become a doctor and specialize in pediatrics?
Dr. Haywood: I’ve wanted to be a pediatrician since I was three years old. I met a Black female eye doctor who made me realize that people like me could be a doctor. I’ve always loved children; it’s very gratifying to watch them get better and recover so quickly. Within days of being ill, they will give you a smile and lavish you with hugs. They are so forgiving even when I’ve had to cause them pain with injections in order to get them better. Even when I am having a bad day, the “happy go lucky” smiles of my patients remind me of how fulfilling this specialty is.
W.G.: Who would you consider your biggest role model and who has been the most influential person in your life professionally and personally?
Dr. Haywood: I didn’t really have people that I remember as role models. Throughout my formative years, what I seem to remember are all the people who would try and steal my dream. They would advise me to go to secretarial school since it was impossible for me to be a doctor even though my grades were excellent. I didn’t see the mentors in my world telling me that anything was possible- just my mom and dad. Education was so important to them and they would fuel my desire to excel by continuing to tell me that I could do it. In fact my mother was very proactive as far as education was concerned. My guidance counselor tried to place me in a commercial high school program which would not have given me the prerequisites to apply for college. My mother went down to the school and recruited other Black parents whose children were channeled into non college bound courses and demanded the academic courses I needed to reach my goal. Tenacity was paramount in my quest to strive for my dreams but without parents continuing to encourage me to strive for excellence, I don’t know if I would have been able to achieve my desired goal.
W.G.: What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
Dr. Haywood: The biggest challenge that I have had is trying to motivate the patients that I see to be the best that they can be and set their goals up high and realize that if they can conceive it, they can achieve it. I try to encourage them to associate with people going the same direction that they are going and hopefully can motivate them to stay focused and don’t give up on their dreams. Regardless of the obstacles that my patients have (and paramount is the lack of an intact family unit that makes education a priority), if they continue to strive, they can achieve. It is heart wrenching when I see kids with potential that continue to get their dreams thwarted daily- even at home.
W.G.: What do you consider the proudest moment in your career?
Dr. Haywood: What makes me proud is when I see my patients achieve and become successful. For every patient that I have that becomes a doctor, lawyer, educator, politician, entrepreneur, etc., I feel good. I hope I’ve played a positive role in their success. The more success that our children see around their environment, the more it motivates them to strive to reach similar heights or better.
I hope that I have been able to extend a hand and help some of these kids achieve some of their dreams. I believe it takes a village to raise a child and I hope that I played some small role in their village.
W.G.: How has the medical profession changed since you began your career?
Dr. Haywood: Medicine has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. With the start of HMO’s and insurance control of health care, there is much more regulation on how I practice medicine. The regulations to a certain degree have mandated a minimum level of health care that is acceptable, but doctors now have limited choices on how they practice. They mandate that you use, let’s say, certain medications (usually because it’s cheaper) without regard as to whether these medications have worked on you in the past. In the past, if one of my patients got sick, I would be able to see them in the emergency room, admit them to the hospital if needed and manage their care. Now, insurance companies have almost eliminated reimbursements to private doctors for hospital care and now my patients are greeted by a stranger if they are hospitalized and not their doctor with whom they have a rapport. Much of my time now is spent dealing with insurance company audits, appeals, authorizations for services that I think the patient needs but costs more than the insurance company wants to spend. With the downturn in the economy, our patients are now seeking medical care (and most times not preventative care as recommended) from pharmacists/nurse practitioners at their corner Walgreen’s. As national health insurance becomes more of the norm, I think you’ll find that there is no longer your private doctor who manages your health care needs and most people will receive health care through multispecialty or single specialty groups or clinics and they’ll be a hospital based staff to manage patients in the hospital.
W.G.: What advice would you give a young person who may be considering a career in medicine?
Dr. Haywood: I would tell them to shoot for the stars and don’t let anyone steal your dream. If you can conceive it, you can achieve it. They need to make sure they are passionate about what they want- so that like me-even after 35 years in pediatrics, I still love what I do.
W.G.: What do you consider the keys to success in life?
Dr. Haywood: Drive; motivation and tenacity. Things won’t always be smooth because life happens to all of us and we all have our different crosses to bear. But if life knocks you down, and it will, get back up, brush yourself off and start all over again.
W.G.: What does Black History mean to you?
Dr. Haywood: Black History means remembering where we were, what we’ve achieved and that we’re not there yet. I would like to be judged based on the content of my character and not on the color of my skin as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., preached. Black History month reminds me that despite all our advances, the majority of Black people are still not treated equally because unfortunately our color is what is seen first. But I think education is still the key. I hope I will live long enough to really feel that I am treated equally.