Whether you call it Black girl magic, Black excellence or just pure grit, Dr. Venita Simpson has it! This past weekend she became the first Black woman to complete Neurosurgery residency at Baylor College of Medicine since the program began in 1956.
While Simpson didn’t expect to make history, she has envisioned herself as a doctor since she was a little girl.
“I was inspired to go into medicine since I was seven-years-old after I had surgery. I was just amazed at all the gadgets in the hospital. I fell in love with Neurosurgery after witnessing Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease and movement disorders and how life changing a seamless placement of electrodes in the brain could alter and enhance someone’s life,” Simpson told Because of them We Can.
In 1981 Dr. Alexa Canady became the first Black woman and the first woman neurosurgeon in the United States. 38 years later Black women make up less than 1% of the population of neurosurgeons in the country. Which is why Simpson’s story is so noteworthy. Not only is she a member of an elite group of neurosurgeons, but she is also a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy where she has served since 2006.
She credits her ability to stay committed to medicine to doctors who paved the way and many organizations such as the National Medical Association and the local Houston Medical Forum chapter.
“I met Dr. Ben Carson several times while I was a medical student at Georgetown, and he was still staff at John Hopkins.
He gave me a great deal of inspiration but moreover Dr. Alexa Canady resonated with me more so because not only was she Black, she was a woman. In a field dominated by white men it can be intimidating, but she persevered and I definitely have pulled strength from her.”
Baylor Neurosurgery is top 10 for NIH research funding and the program is affiliated with MD Anderson Cancer Center which is the #1 cancer center in the nation according to US world news. In other words, training at Baylor is a big deal, but it wasn’t easy.
“When I knew I wanted to go to medical school, my high school guidance counselor told me to be realistic. Even though I had a 4.0 GPA, she recommended another student of privilege for the scholarship I was applying. When I originally applied to Neurosurgery I did not match, but I dug my heels in, got back on the grind and matched the second time around. Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do. God is always in control and has a plan far greater than you imagined if you keep faith.
Simpson received her Bachelors of Science from Florida State in 2004 and her Doctor of Medicine from Georgetown University in 2011. She attended Baylor College of Medicine for residency from 2011-2018 and her Enfolded Complex Spine Fellowship from 2018-2019. She is headed to Portsmouth, Virginia to practice neurosurgery with the Navy.