Growing up, from her childhood in Jamaica and Miami, all the way through medical school and earning a public health degree with a concentration in maternal health at Harvard University, Dr. Colette Brown-Graham always assumed “I was gonna go save the world,” traveling the world to care for the planet’s neediest families.
That didn’t happen exactly — “I got married and had children, and all of that went out the door. You don’t get to do all those things like send your kids to school, have a house to live in and make your marriage work, and be traveling all over the place,” says Brown-Graham, now an obstetrician/gynecologist in Wellington, serving both Wellington Regional Medical Center and Palms West Hospital.
Still, the doctor has dedicated herself to the health of the community, both in her practice and as the president of the T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society, named after the first African-American physician in Palm Beach County. The society is sponsoring its annual health care fair on July 13 from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the FoundCare Clinic, 2330 S. Congress Ave., offering free back-to-school physicals for students, breast exams, PAP smears, HIV testing, dental screenings and more.
“Dr. Jefferson was a traveling doctor who went around on a bicycle from place to place. His mission was to help people who were under-served, who were often brown people. That has gone into what the mission of the society is today,” she says. “The health fair is important to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to have an exam. If the Affordable Health Care Act works as it should, there will be no need for it … I hate to use the word ‘stupid,’ but it’s stupid in the United States for people to die from an illness we can do something about.”
Brown-Graham’s goal was always to be a physician. Born in Kingston, her family moved to Miami when she was 13. Her mother is a nurse who worked at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.
With degrees from Duke University, UM and Harvard, she says she decided to settle back in South Florida because, “as I told my husband, I’m from Jamaica! I need the warmth,’” she says.
She lives in Loxahatchee with her husband, Alvin Graham, an engineer by trade who now works as a Realtor, and twin daughters Gabrielle and Giselle, 18, both of whom study the violin at Dreyfoos School of the Arts. She says that she loves what she does because of the way it fosters not only community but a sense of family.
“It’s an amazing field, because I get to be so close to the patients,” she says. “You become part of the family. You actually are part of the children’s lives. I enjoy building relationships.”
Question: What do you do on your off days?
Answer: I was going to joke and say ‘What off days?’ (laughs). Sometimes I don’t know if I’m coming or going. Sometimes I sit down and go ‘How many things do I have to do?’ There’s always something to do.
Q: I hear you do water aerobics.
A: Yes, I do! I need to exercise and I’d hate to ask my patients if they are exercising if it’s something I’m not doing. I do it at L.A. Fitness in Wellington. I sing during (class). Sometimes if I’m not there, when I come back the people say ‘You’re back! Good! We’ll have singing!’
Q: What do you sing?
A: Whatever is on. The other people in class always say ‘You know these songs because your children are teenagers.’
Q: With your schedule, do you ever get to travel? And if so, where do you like to go?
A. Because I was born in a different country, I didn’t want my children to think that (this country) is how it is everywhere. Every year we go somewhere. We’ve been to Costa Rica. A few years ago we went to China, and Switzerland. This year I’m 50, so we’re supposed to go somewhere to celebrate.
Q: Do you watch any TV dramas about doctors?
A: No. They make me go ‘This is not real. I can’t watch this.’ I used to love ‘American Idol,’ not because of the singers, but because, to me, it was what America is about. In Jamaica, if you’re born poor you’re probably not going to make it into the middle class. But in the U.S. you can start out basically flipping burgers and the next day, practically, you’re discovered, like ‘Oh my gosh! I made it!’