Representation Matters: “You Can’t Be What You Don’t See” – Learning From Dr. Ada Stewart, PACHA Member

Content From: B. Kaye Hayes, MPA, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infectious Disease, Director, Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP), Executive Director, Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA)Published: April 26, 20233 min read


I was brought to tears watching an HHS video, as it reinforced my understanding of the power of the community serving the community and emphasized that one person can truly make a remarkable difference. This videoExit Disclaimer celebrated Dr. Ada D. Stewart, MD, FAAFP, a former pharmacist, current family physician, and member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). I am honored to celebrate her personal and professional accomplishments, as they highlight her positive impact on so many—including people living with HIV, people of trans experience, and especially the children she continues to serve and care for.

“You can’t be what you don’t see,” said Dr. Stewart in the video as she recounted growing up in the housing projects in Cleveland, OH. She shared that she wasn’t aware that going to medical school or being a physician was possible due to the lack of representation of those in the medical field in her community. Fortunately, that all changed when her teacher introduced her class to a pharmacist who looked like her and worked and served in her community. Seeing that pharmacist being a part of the life of the community inspired her to attend pharmacy school.

While serving as a pharmacist, she suffered the unimaginable losses of several family members, including her parents and a sister, to preventable health diseases. This was yet another encouraging factor which inspired her to enter medical school and complete her medical degree at the Medical College of Ohio. She later finished her family medicine residency training at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. “I realized I could do much more. I knew that I wanted to do family medicine and that I could really have an impact within my community—the community where we never even saw a doctor.”

Dr. Stewart was the first African American woman to serve as both board chair and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. While in these roles, she advocated on behalf of patients and family physicians to inspire positive changes in the nation’s health care system. Presently, as a family physician, she provides health care with Cooperative Health in Columbia, South Carolina where she serves as lead provider and HIV specialist.

I’d like to thank Dr. Stewart for her incredible community service and her participation with PACHA. I encourage you to watchExit Disclaimer the video and share her inspirational message about service and community. “I stand on the shoulders of so many community servants who came before me. I didn’t realize the impact this video would have on so many, and I was honored to participate and share my story in hopes of it inspiring others. This hope gives me the fuel and energy to do what I do every day—serve the community and be there for those who look like me and have the greatest need.”

This inspiring HHS video was developed for Women’s History Month in March, and we encourage you to share it now or during National Women’s Health Week, observed May 14–20. WatchExit Disclaimer the video to learn more about Dr. Stewart’s journey to medical school and her decision to become the doctor she never had.