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Dr. Helen Dickens: A Reproductive Health Care Trailblazer and My Mentor


Headshot of Gloria Bachmann, MD, MMS, FACOG.
Gloria Bachmann, MD, MMS, FACOG


Often, when obstetric and gynecologic health care professionals think about reproductive health care, our thoughts focus on the individuals whom we have clinically and surgically assisted—and, for most of us, how advances in this field have personally benefited our lives or the life of a loved one. But there's another aspect of reproductive health that I feel very strongly about and that changed my entire professional career pathway: having a very strong woman mentor and role model during my medical student years who gave me both the encouragement and the support to pursue a reproductive health career pathway. That mentor for me is the late Dr. Helen O. Dickens.

Dr. Dickens was a trailblazer not only for the obstetrics and gynecology specialty but also for encouraging women through the example she set by pursuing this specialty. Dr. Dickens was a Black woman obstetrician–gynecologist who became an ACOG Fellow on May 1, 1953, a time when there were few women in the specialty. She went on to become an ACOG Life Fellow on January 1, 1988. She also was the first Black woman accepted into the American College of Surgeons in 1950.

I was extremely fortunate to have been one of the medical students at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who was mentored by Dr. Dickens. In fact, Dr. Dickens was my obstetrics and gynecology attending during the time when I was deciding which residency to pursue. Directly observing Dr. Dickens in the inpatient units and the ambulatory clinics was awe inspiring and without a doubt influenced my decision to pursue a professional career path focused on reproductive health. I got to directly see the differences she was making in the obstetric and gynecologic care that she provided to all women, but especially to underserved Black women. The teen clinic that she opened to assist teen mothers was one that provided comprehensive services to them. Dr. Dickens was never too busy to give all women the comprehensive care and counseling that they needed.

Matching at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's obstetrics and gynecology residency program also gave me many more opportunities to rotate on both the inpatient and outpatient units with Dr. Dickens as my attending. After being mentored by Dr. Dickens, both as a student and resident, my vision has always been to follow in her footsteps, to be a welcoming clinician to all patients, and to be a role model and mentor to all who enter the reproductive health care specialty.

Gloria A. Bachmann, MD, MMS, FACOG, is a national and internationally recognized physician. She is the professor of obstetrics and gynecology, associate dean for women's health, and the director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Dr. Bachmann also is the medical director of the PROUD Gender Center of New Jersey and the medical director of the New Jersey Commission on Women's Reentry, in which she also chairs the commission's Health Committee.

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions observing Women in Medicine Month reflect experiences of individual ACOG members and do not represent official organizational opinions of ACOG.