Overcoming generational challenges
As a part of a series highlighting physicians during Black History Month, we had the pleasure of interviewing FMA member Alma Littles, MD. She is a Board-certified family medicine physician and was instrumental in the planning and opening of the Florida State University College of Medicine in the early 2000s. She now serves as Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and Academic Affairs. Dr. Littles grew up in rural Quincy, Fla., and became the first in her family to attend college before earning her MD from the University of Florida. She is a Past President of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians and the Capital Medical Society. Among Dr. Littles’ many accolades is the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal (2019), given annually by the American Medical Women’s Association to a woman physician who has made the most outstanding contributions to the cause of women in medicine. Dr. Littles, who grew up in a family of farm workers in rural Gadsden County, has devoted her medical career to improving access to care for underserved patients. Find out more on how she discovered her passion for medicine.
On the rewards of specializing in family medicine:
How family tragedy and a teacher’s words motivated her to study medicine:
“I chose family medicine because I enjoy the relationship aspects of it and the fact that it allowed me to see patients throughout the lifespan — from newborns to the elderly — and care for the total person. I found that knowing something about my patients’ families and socioeconomic challenges or assets helped me provide better care to them. I didn’t feel limited in who I could have as a patient based on gender, age, or chief complaint.
“Family medicine also required me to stay current in all aspects of healthcare, including advocating for my patients before policy and legislative bodies. While I am no longer in direct patient care, I feel that my training as a family physician prepared me well for my role as a medical school administrator and teacher. That aspect of not knowing what is behind the next exam room door, but needing to be ready for anything, comes in very handy in what I do every day overseeing the medical education program for the FSU College of Medicine.”
“My second-grade teacher planted the seed when I didn’t even know what it really meant to be a doctor. I never forgot her words, ‘Alma, when you grow up, I think you should be a doctor.’ Those words started to come to fruition as I grew older and started to see what limited or no access to healthcare looked like. I had multiple close family members suffer unnecessarily from preventable and/or treatable illnesses and saw too many of them succumb to those illnesses. It was the combination of that seed planted by Mrs. Hazel Jones in second grade, and watching my father die from a heart attack when I was 14, and losing siblings, nieces, nephews, and others to illnesses that made up the inspirational experiences for me to pursue a career in medicine. It didn’t hurt that I fell in love with math and science, which formed the building blocks for me to be successful in school.”
"We have an obligation to make sure the physician workforce represents the full diversity of our society so we can provide the best holistic care to all of our patients.”
On the importance of African American representation in family medicine:
“The mission of the FSU College of Medicine is what enticed me to leave medical practice and join the new medical school as it was being established. Embedded in that mission statement is a focus on training physicians who will care for patients in underserved populations, as well as recruit students from those populations that are underrepresented in medicine. As human beings, we seek care from physicians we feel are competent and caring (words that are also encompassed in the FSU COM’s mission statement), but we also want to see a representation of physicians who we feel will understand us because they’ve ’walked in our shoes’ among those in the profession. That is not to say that every African American patient is looking for an African American physician, but they do want to know that there are African American physicians who are in the profession and providing perspective of their unique characteristics and challenges. This is true for every group of patients. So, we have an obligation to make sure the physician workforce represents the full diversity of our society so we can provide the best holistic care to all of our patients.”
On the future and continuing to pay it forward:
“My goal in everything I do is to give it my all and hope that while I’m there and once I’m gone, it’s better off than when I started. I’ve been blessed to be a part of multiple aspects of a medical career – from starting out as a solo practicing physician, to establishing a group practice to being faculty and director of a family medicine residency program, to establishing a department of family medicine at a brand spanking new medical school, and then serving as the chief academic officer of that school for almost two decades. Parallel to that has been the privilege to serve my community and my profession through participation and leadership in local, state and national boards, committees and organized medicine groups like the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, Big Bend Hospice BOD, Capital Medical Society President, FMA Board of Directors and Council Chair, FAFP President, AAFP Committee Chair and Delegate, AMA Academic Physicians Section Chair to name a few. So, while it seems that recently I’m being asked when I plan to retire, I’m more frequently asked the ‘what’s next’ question. My response is that retirement is not close to the top of my current to-do list. What I would love is the opportunity to continue to serve as a leader in medical education and do so in a way that allows visionary growth in education, research, and medical practice. I also plan to continue to pay it forward and lend my expertise to pursue continued leadership in organized medicine and in my community.”