Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee: The 1st African American Woman appointed Dean of an American Medical School and Sister to Diana Ross

A Supreme Queen of Medicine

Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., was the first African American woman to be appointed dean of an American medical school (Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine) in 2001.


“Being dean of a medical school is of no consequence unless I can make the way better for those who follow … those who must follow me. But I was not always a medical school dean. Before that, I was a medical educator. Before that, I was a family physician practicing in inner-city Detroit. Before that, I was a schoolteacher, and before that I was poor and living in the housing projects of Detroit,” – Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee



Ross-Lee is the sister of pop diva Diana Ross. Medical experts say she is on her way to being as well known in her field as her sister is in the world of entertainment.

Her Turn to Shine

At one point during her time in private practice, Ross-Lee sensed that the world of medicine was changing, although she had no idea where it was going. That was in 1983, and Michigan State University in East Lansing offered her a full-time job teaching family medicine. Its distance from Detroit posed a slight problem, though.

Some 78 miles would separate her from her second husband, Edmond Beverly, a Detroit school administrator. But that was not far enough to keep the family — which now included his two children by a former marriage and their daughter — apart. They commuted.

For 10 years, Ross-Lee worked her way to the top. She served as chairwoman of the department of Family Medicine and associate dean of health policy at the college before she won her newest job as the dean of Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1993 to 2001.

Becoming the first African American woman to head a major medical college is just beginning to sink in, she said, and she has many concerns.

On minority faculty and student recruitment: “One of the problems with our health care system is that many providers who deliver health services are not sensitive to the economic and cultural issues which impact the health of minorities. We must not only increase the number of minority medical students and providers, but we must also increase the sensitivity to minority issues overall in the system.”

Regarding osteopathic medicine, she laments the reluctance of minorities to enter the profession, although opportunities for their advancement in the field are “limitless.”

She said the federal government named Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine one of the country’s 25 Centers of Excellence, which enabled it to receive a three-year grant that will be used to “aggressively recruit” minority students and faculty.

“With this grant, we are now able to mentor and support students all the way back to junior high level, which, I believe, is where we are losing a lot of potential, as far as minority students who might be interested in medicine, but get discouraged too soon. We are the only medical school in Ohio, and the only osteopathic medical school in the country, to be selected for this innovative program.”

Ross-Lee hopes to use her position to keep the focus on improving access to health care and on turning out primary care doctors, whose specialty is osteopathic medicine.

In 2001, Dr. Ross-Lee was appointed vice president for Health Sciences and Medical Affairs at the New York Institute of Technology, and in 2002, she became dean of the New York Institute of Technology’s New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Ross-Lee has an extensive background in health policy issues, and serves as an advisor on primary care, medical education, minority health, women’s health and rural health care issues on federal and state committees and organizations. Ross-Lee is the director of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Health Policy Fellowship program, which prepares mid-career osteopathic physicians for leadership roles in health policy. She is also director of the Training in Policy Studies (TIPS) for post-graduate (resident physicians) osteopathic trainees; director of the Institute for National Health Policy and Research; and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Osteopathic Medical Association, a medical association of minority osteopathic physicians.

She was the commencement speaker in 2013 for the New York College of Health Professions. She has lectured widely and published numerous scholarly articles on a variety of medical and healthcare issues. She has received six honorary degrees and many national awards.



Phillip, M. (1994). Ohio university’s supreme doctor: Dean barbara ross-lee of the college of osteopathic medicine. Black Issues in Higher Education, 11(22), 22. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/194203650?accountid=14270

Targeted News Service, Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee Honored for Professional and Public Service, April 18, 2014, OLD WESTBURY, N.Y.



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