Walls and Obstacles Fell to This Surgeon’s Knife

Dr. Velma Scantlebury, first female African-American transplant surgeon, to speak at Wilmington University

New Castle, Delaware, UNITED STATES

NEW CASTLE, Del., Feb. 26, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- When she was a young girl living in Barbados, Velma Scantlebury raked her hand hard against the roughness of the long wall she passed every day to gather strength and courage to get past the gauntlet of bullies that blocked her way to school. From that time on, she saw every obstacle in her life as a wall – something to get over or get beyond.

Today, after scaling and leaving behind many other kinds of walls and obstacles, Dr. Velma Scantlebury, associate chief of transplant surgery for the Christiana Care Health System, is renown as the first female African-American transplant surgeon in the United States.

On February 28, Dr. Velma Scantlebury will be at the Pratt Student Center on the Wilmington University New Castle main campus for a discussion about her new book, Beyond Every Wall. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. and will be followed by a book signing with books available for purchase on-site. Scantlebury’s appearance at WilmU is in celebration of Black History Month and the event is open to the public as well as all students, alumni, faculty and staff.

Click here to reserve your seat now.

In Scantlebury’s mind, walls have always represented obstacles to overcome on the way to the medical community’s acceptance of her capability, knowledge and surgical skill. She always knew she would be a surgeon, and she faced many such walls on the way to gaining respect and credibility as a doctor and surgeon beyond her gender, color and country of origin. After medical school at Columbia University in New York, Scantlebury found her inspiration in Dr. Barbara Barlow, a pediatric surgeon, during her surgical residency at Harlem Hospital in the 1970’s. After having worked by her side, Scantlebury hoped to one day take her place.

The walls and obstacles for women in general, and for Scantlebury particularly, were discouraging. Dr. Barlow gave Scantlebury the hope and role model she needed in a time when women in medicine were still not mainstream.

When the opportunity came for her to do a clinical fellowship in research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, her initial focus was on becoming a pediatric transplant surgeon. While there, she completed over 600 liver and 400 kidney transplants in a year. She was completely immersed in what soon became “a Mecca of transplantation” as Pittsburgh was conducting and researching more transplants than anywhere else. She benefited from watching, learning and employing the various techniques of a staff that ultimately grew to 10 surgeons, including herself, plus visiting surgeons from all over the world.

After nearly 18 years of grueling, hard work side by side with many of the finest doctors from all over the world and learning from their many different surgical techniques, Scantlebury found that she was still one of less than a handful of female surgeons in the country. And, at that time, she was the only black female transplant surgeon in the world.

“I saw all of the sexism and discouragement projected at all females, not just in the surgical theater but in medicine as a whole,” she remembers. “I developed a goal that I would not retire until there were 10 female transplant surgeons.” As she turned her attention to finishing her book, Scantlebury found that there were eight female transplant surgeons of color.  By the time she finished it, she was able to find a total of 12. She has met most of them and is a mentor to them. “Living my purpose in front of them allows them to live their purpose,” she adds. Scantlebury acknowledges each of these additional pioneers at the end of her book.

Wilmington University Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Jim Wilson is one of Scantlebury’s patients.  “We first met at a Wilmington walk for the National Kidney Foundation, long before I needed her services,” he recalls. “When the time came that I knew a transplant was my only option, I knew to call Dr. Scantlebury. To say that she’s extremely competent is still an understatement, and it was reassuring to me that, once we got past all of the doctor-patient stuff, she’s a truly wonderful human being.” 

With over 2,000 transplants to her credit, Dr. Scantlebury is still one of only 12 local females today in the surgical discipline and science of transplantation. Her story, and theirs, serve as inspiration to those who will become the next generation of transplant surgeons.

The walls that once stood to keep women and women of color out of medicine have been repurposed, brick by brick, to build the surgical theaters of the future.

To reserve your seat now, visit events.wilmu.edu/site/studentservices/event/wilmu-book-club.  

About Wilmington University
Wilmington University is one of the most affordable, fastest growing private, nonprofit universities in the region, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in online and traditional formats. An accredited and respected leader specializing in exemplary student service, Wilmington University offers convenient and flexible options designed to prepare students for success in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Now celebrating its 50th year, the University has never wavered in its mission to offer opportunities to all who wish to transform their lives through quality education. For more information, visit wilmu.edu.


Laurie Bick-Jensen

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/ce44ebc4-a380-467c-83ff-163c71df02d2

Dr. Velma Scantlebury