Black History Month: Osteopathic Medical Pioneer Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee

Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee is a physician, educator, medical school administrator, and the first Black woman to become Dean of an osteopathic medical school in the United States.

Barbara Ross-Lee with her sister Diana Ross
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Born and raised in Detroit, Dr. Ross-Lee attended Wayne State University and married prior to graduation. While at Wayne State she was enrolled in pre-medical studies with the hope of becoming a physician.  Her university advisor (who was a woman) wished to discourage her interest in medicine and would not approve Ross-Lee’s desire to major in anatomy. Instead, she majored in biology and chemistry and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1965.

During this time period, it was difficult for minority students to be admitted to medical school and there were few financial resources available for prospective medical students from low-income families. So, after graduation, Dr. Ross-Lee began teaching with the National Teacher Corps, a federal program designed to improve education in lower-income communities. Her opportunity to attend medical school arose when Michigan State University opened an osteopathic medical school and Ross-Lee was accepted as a student.

After medical school, she opened a family medicine practice in Detroit which she maintained for ten years. She then worked for the Department of Health and Human Services where she focused on medical education. She subsequently worked with the Michigan Governor’s Minority Health Advisory Committee and became the first osteopathic physician to be awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship.

In 1993, she was named Dean of the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, becoming the first Black woman to have achieved this role. During her career, she has received many honors and has held executive-level positions at osteopathic medical schools including Dean of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and Vice President of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine

Dr. Ross-Lee’s younger sister is Diana Ross, who became an international singing star as the lead singer of the Supremes and as a solo artist.

Contributed by Adrian Clark, Diversity and Inclusion Officer

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