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Judith Richards

Dr. Judith Richards, M.D., M.P.H., Ambulatory Care Attending and Associate Program Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program, NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan

During this year’s Black History Month, we’ve had the pleasure of featuring some of PAGNY’s esteemed and accomplished Black providers and learning more about their stories. To close out this series, we’re pleased to spotlight Dr. Judith Richards, M.D., M.P.H.! Dr. Richards wears many hats at NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan: she is an Ambulatory Care Attending and one of the Associate Program Directors of the Internal Medicine Residency Program. Her success has been hard won, a product of perseverance, determination, and sacrifice.

Growing Up

Dr. Richards was born and raised in Jamaica, where she lived with her parents, siblings, and grandmother. When she was seven years old, her mother immigrated to the United States, leaving her and her siblings in the care of her father and grandmother. Growing up, Dr. Richards struggled with asthma, and was often in and out of the hospital. She was inspired by the nurses, majority women, who took care of her during hospital stays, and decided that she wanted to be like them when she grew up and provide compassionate care to those who needed it most.

Her father was the first to ask her:

“Why not a doctor?”

In truth, Dr. Richards hadn’t yet met many women doctors. But her father reminded her of a mixed-race practitioner who had treated her asthma during one hospital visit. Her father spoke highly of the doctor, reminding the young Dr. Richards of how she spoke to her like a grown-up, offered suggestions for teas to soothe her throat, and complimented her grandmother for taking such good care of her.

“That conversation with my father by the corner of the garage, near the orange tree, about a woman I met once…changed the trajectory of my life," she said.

Finding Strength in Literature

Dr. Richards’s journey to becoming a doctor was not always easy. In literature and poetry, she found the strength to continue through moments of intense difficulty.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker, first gifted to her by her mother when she was 12 years old, was one work that had a lasting impact on Dr. Richards. She remembers vividly the passage in which Walker writes that it upsets God when people pass the color purple in a field and do not notice. Dr. Richards sees parallels in society and the medical field, then and now. She says, “Implicit bias and blindness often leaves us [Black women physicians] unacknowledged.”

Dr. Richards also cited Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem” as another source of inspiration. During her time at SUNY Downstate’s College of Medicine, she was a member of the Daniel Hale Williams Society (DHWS), named for the Black physician who performed the first successful open-heart surgery. The DHWS is a student organization that helps Black, Caribbean, and Latino medical students achieve success in educational and professional environments where they have been historically underrepresented. She and the class of 2006 knew and held tight this poem, eager to defy the odds and see their dreams realized.

Realizing her Dream

Despite these obstacles, Dr. Richards never stopped working toward realizing her dreams: “I had an image of a brown-skinned young woman being a caring, attentive physician.” She credits her success to her mother and father, her mother for helping set her on the path to becoming a U.S. citizen and increasing access to world-class educational opportunities, and her father for his confidence and pride in her. She especially credits her mother's sacrifice and courage. Dr. Richards is also careful not to forget the diverse men and women of all races and cultural backgrounds who have “pulled, pushed, lifted, and propelled” her over the course of her career.

Dr. Richards has taken to heart the support and care she has received throughout her life and strives to bring it with her as she treats each patient. Today, she works to not only remedy health conditions, but also connect with patients and their families. As Dr. Richards puts it, she transforms the disease to transform the person.

Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” has also helped her live with moment-to-moment awareness: “With each personal and patient encounter, I am reminded to intentionally bring pause and attention to the vision I am continually realizing.”

Dr. Richards truly embodies our guiding principles as a physician, leader, and member of PAGNY. Her earliest medical experiences—with providers who looked like her—continue to inform the care she provides to H+H/Metropolitan’s patient population. We acknowledge the challenges Dr. Richards has faced as a Black woman medical student and physician, and celebrate the intangible impact she has had and continues to have on our community.

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