Dr. Henri Ford’s appointment as dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is one for the history books. His new post is paving a path not only for Haitians, but all people of color in the field. 

By Joey Francilus

MIAMI —  Haitian-American physician Dr. Henri Ford is about to embark on a tenure as the tenth dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine this summer.  

His appointment makes him the first person of color to serve as chief administrator for Florida’s first medical school since it opened in 1952. He will lead a faculty of just over 1,200 members.

The gravity of what this latest position means, not only to the doctors he’ll train, but for black and brown nurses and aspiring medical professionals who will look to him as a beacon of hope, is not lost on him.

“I hope I can serve as a source of inspiration and motivation for people of color, especially for the Haitian people, and for other disenfranchised Latin American youth, West Indian youth, economically-disadvantaged people from South Florida and the rest of the country,” Ford said in a telephone interview on April 4, which also marks 50 years since American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis.

“The American dream is not limited to one particular faction; it is not limited to one particular complexion. It is really open to everybody.”

Ford, 59, was the sixth-born to a family with nine children in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. In 1972 he immigrated to the United States, determined to make a living in his new home, after fleeing Haiti because of political instability. At the time, Haiti was under the regime of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, son and successor of former “president for life” Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who kept a firm grip on Haiti’s power and influence until his death in office in 1971.

Ford’s career in medical practice includes several returns to his birthplace, including in the aftermath of the January 2010 7.1-magnitude earthquake, that left an estimated 300,000 people dead, and again in 2015 to separate conjoined twins.

“He’s a proven team builder who can bring people together to advance care for the most vulnerable patients, while also advancing medical education to teach the next generation of physicians,” said Lisa Worley, assistant vice-president of medical communications for the University of Miami.

“Because he understands South Florida’s community, he will continue our impact to patients in the region and beyond.”

He speaks of a selflessness in his work, and an apparently driving persistence to seek out the betterment of all his patients.

“I believe that the industry of medicine must be a beacon of hope for all of the people of South Florida,” Ford said, acknowledging South Florida’s alarmingly-high infectious disease rates and the need for UMiami Medicine to provide the access of its resources to all South Floridians.

According to the Florida Department of Health in April 2016, Miami-Dade ranked first in the state for reported STD cases, though the infection rate in Florida’s most-populous county was on par with a state average. Between 2012 and 2016, rates of transmission for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and infectious syphilis all increased.

Most staggering, of Miami-Dade County’s 2.7 million residents, 53.9 per every 100,000 people in Miami-Dade County is infected with HIV. The rate gives Florida’s urban center the dubious distinction of having the highest statistical average of infection for a single U.S. county.

Data on Haitians who suffer from such illness can be tough to come by, and is often combined into the racial and ethnic data reporting for traditional African-American populations.

“We have to be the champions for all of the people with medical needs, in addition to the fact that we have to advance the field of medicine. We have to be the destination for people seeking the latest advances in biotechnology and clinical intervention.”

He followed with blunter words in professing the fulfillment of his Hippocratic oath:

“Unless people have access to the quality healthcare that is being provided by the Miller School and the University Health System than it is really for naught.

Ford also hopes to cultivate the location of the medical center campus, located within minutes from Miami International Airport, downtown Miami, and Miami Beach as a means to fortify recruiting efforts from the globe’s southern tier.

“I believe that Miller School of Medicine is ideally located at the gateway of Latin America and the West Indies. As such, we can attract talent from all over, and we can bring together great scientists,” Ford explained.

“Hopefully, we will be able to translate those discoveries into clinical interventions that will improve the health of the people of South Florida.”

Ford succeeds Dr. Edward Abraham, who served as the school’s ninth dean since July 2017.  Abraham steps down as dean at Ford’s appointment. He was promoted to chief executive officer of the University of Miami Health System on January 1st.

His appointment increases the share of Haitian-American leaders in Miami-Dade County. The physician will be among other high-level executives that include County Commissioner Jean Monestime, and North Miami mayor and fellow physician Dr. Smith Joseph. (I believe Dr. Smith is a pharmacist, not physician)

“I’m eager to partner with the local officials, elected officials, community leaders, and other key stakeholders to see what the problems are, and what we can do constructively and collectively to begin to address them in a meaningful way. The health needs of the people of South Florida will be not only be addressed but championed at all time.

“I hope to be an example that if you apply yourself if you believe in yourself if you stick with the principle that there is no satisfactory substitute for excellence than you can achieve just about everything,” he said. “I [also] hope that I will bring a certain amount of vision, energy, and patience to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine that will help to catapult it to become one of the elite institutions when it comes to medical education.”

Ford finished undergrad at Princeton University in 1980, and earned his medical degree from Harvard University in 1984. He completed internships and residency at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City between 1984 and 1991. He completed a Master of Health Administration degree at USC in 2009.

He leaves the Keck School of Medicine at the University of South California this spring, after 13 years. It’s a place where he holds the current title of vice president and chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Vice-Dean of Medical Education, Professor and Vice-chair for clinical affairs in the Department of Surgery.

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