Our guest for this episode is Dr. Odette Harris. She made history last year when Stanford’s department of neurosurgery announced she would become professor of neurosurgery — a feat that makes Odette the second female professor of neurosurgery at Stanford’s School of Medicine, and the second African-American female professor of neurosurgery anywhere...some truly remarkable achievements despite some serious headwinds.
She was born in Jamaica and earned her undergraduate degree in biology from Dartmouth College in 1991. When she studied medicine at Stanford University, she was the only black woman in her 1996 graduating class. Then, she was one of two women in her residency. And while Odette has also earned a master’s of public health in epidemiology from UC Berkeley, and has received numerous honors and fellowships for her work — among them, awards from the Western Neurological Society and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, and an appointment as the president of Women in Neurosurgery — she is continuously perceived as someone meant to do menial work on the hospital floor, whether it’s taking out the trash or cleaning the bathroom. As Odette puts it, when you’re black and female and working at a mostly white hospital, you’re constantly reminded of that. And asked time and again to defend your credentials.
Odette credits her mentors for encouraging her to keep going. And today, Odette pays that forward as a professor and mentor of students of all kinds of backgrounds, and is vocal about using her own experience to change the norms for both women and people of color. And she does so with poise and positivity.