Monday, January 21, 2019
by Kathryn Holleman • firstname.lastname@example.org
BJC MEDICAL GROUP | Ashley Denmark, DO, wrote her children’s book, “Olivia’s Doctor Adventures,” to give children something she didn’t have when she was a child — someone to say, “You can.”
The book is just one of her efforts to inspire minority children by showing them that someone who looks like them and who comes from the same background is capable of achieving their biggest dreams.
“It makes a difference — seeing someone who looks like you, who comes from the community,” says Dr. Denmark. “It can make achievement realistic to kids by exposing them to the possibility. I want to normalize success for them.”
“I could do that”
Dr. Denmark grew up in Jennings, Missouri, the daughter of a carpenter and child care worker. Her neighborhood had its “rough areas,” she says.
As a young girl, she made up her mind that she was going to become a doctor, like the ones who treated her for asthma and made her feel better. But kids in her neighborhood typically didn’t become doctors. And friends, neighbors, even teachers, didn’t hesitate to remind her of it.
She was a bright, motivated, “science nerd” in high school. But she remembers guidance counsellors trying to scale back her dreams. They pushed her to attend a local college, warning that students from her school often floundered at big, out-of-state schools.
“But that made me want to do it more,” Dr. Denmark says.
She worked summers in the food and nutrition department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, volunteering for any job that would take her out of the basement kitchen and tray assembly area onto the patient care floors.
She also job-shadowed in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). Watching staff care for patients just out of surgery, she realized, “I could do that.”
So, despite the guidance counselors’ advice, she applied to colleges and universities across the country and was accepted at all of them. She chose to attend Spelman College, the prestigious, historically black women’s college in Atlanta. Spelman is known for graduating the most African-American women to have gone on to earn science, engineering and mathematics doctoral degrees.
Although some friends and co-workers questioned why she’d leave the guarantee of a good job at BJH for the uncertainty of college, Dr. Denmark was determined to follow her dream.
“I literally got off my shift, walked out of that basement and left for college the next day,” Dr. Denmark says.
Path to med school
She worked hard and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at Spelman. But she still faced barriers on her path to practicing medicine.
She moved to Boston with just $500 in her pocket to get hands-on experience in academic research at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University.
As a research assistant in a greenhouse, she spent her days digging in soil and learned a valuable lesson — she hated research.
Her journey continued to New Orleans, where her college sweetheart, now husband, was attending Tulane University Law School. Working as a pharmacy tech, she pondered her next move, deciding to enroll at Tulane. There, she earned her master’s degree in neuroscience.
With her husband’s encouragement, she applied to Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Virginia. The school asked if she’d be willing to be in the inaugural class at the college’s new campus in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and she agreed.
Before her classes started, she became pregnant with her first child. Not willing to delay her dream any longer, she began medical school and gave birth to daughter Olivia, just three weeks later. Though juggling motherhood, classes and lots of sleep deprivation, Dr. Denmark made it work, finally earning the medical degree she had striven so long and hard for.
After her residency and practicing family medicine in South Carolina for several years, Dr. Denmark, her husband and three children moved to St. Louis. Dr. Denmark joined BJC Medical Group and practices family medicine at the Missouri Baptist Outpatient Center on South Lindbergh Boulevard.
“I absolutely love what I do,” she says. “I love the variety. I love learning about patients and their families and taking care of them throughout their lives.”
Making it easier
Now that she’s achieved her goal of becoming a practicing physician, Dr. Denmark wants to help others achieve their dream. She feels that one key factor keeping more black women from considering a medical career is a lack of role models. Of approximately 900,000 actively licensed physicians in the U.S., only about 17,500 are black women, she says.
Support from her family and her own personality and work ethic allowed her to surmount the obstacles along her journey to becoming a doctor. But the journey was often lonely.
“I had to keep opening doors and not be afraid of where life would take me,” Dr. Denmark says. “I got used to being uncomfortable and making things happen.”
She’s already taken steps to provide encouragement and information to those considering a medical career. For children, she’s written, published and is distributing “Olivia’s Doctor Adventures” (see sidebar at left). For minority medical students, residents and physicians, she began the @diversifymedicineproject on Instagram with more than 12,000 followers to provide a positive social media platform offering encouragement, advice and a place to connect.
Dr. Denmark plans to continue and expand those efforts, eventually reaching into her old neighborhood.
“It’s important to normalize the process, normalize success,” she says. “Everyone needs to hear that they’re good enough to achieve, that they just need to keep pushing.
“We need to make more doctors. And I just want to make it easier for those coming behind me.”
Denmark hopes to inspire others with ‘Olivia’s Doctor Adventures’
Ashley Denmark, DO, calls her eldest daughter, Olivia, a daily inspiration. As a 3-year-old, Olivia endured partially awake brain surgery to remove a small malformation that had caused seizures. Now age 7, Olivia is healthy, bright and inquisitive.
“She’s my motivation,” says Dr. Denmark. “She’s an amazing little girl.”
Once Olivia realized that her mommy was a doctor, like those who had helped her, she developed the habit of peppering Dr. Denmark with questions each evening about what she had done at work during the day.
Olivia’s interest, coupled with her own desire to encourage minority children to consider medical careers, inspired Dr. Denmark to write a children’s book, “Olivia’s Doctor Adventures.”
The book explains different medical specialties and what types of patients and what parts of the body or illnesses each treats in language a young child can understand. The book, illustrated by Mike Motz, features a family that mirrors Dr. Denmark’s own — an African-American mom and dad with two daughters and a son.
In the book, Olivia’s mom, a doctor, helps Olivia imagine herself as a cardiologist, psychiatrist, family practice doctor, neurologist, pulmonologist and other specialties, as well as a dentist and pharmacist.
“Olivia’s Doctor Adventures” is currently on sale on Amazon. But Dr. Denmark is also working to make sure it’s available to children who might not be able to afford or access it. Simply opening children’s minds to the possibility that they can have a successful career in health care can be key to launching them in that career, she says.
“It makes a difference,” Dr. Denmark says. “Seeing someone who looks like you makes it realistic to kids. Everyone needs that — to know that you’re good enough to achieve your dreams if you just keep pushing.”
Number of views (2536)/Comments (43)
1/7/2019 1:23 PM
Sending some virtual thunderous applause to Dr. Denmark. Kudos to you for your accomplishments and being a tremendous source of inspiration to others!!!
1/7/2019 1:57 PM
WOW!!! What a wonderful article. You brought tears to my eyes. You are one special lady.
1/7/2019 2:22 PM
Congratulations Dr. Denmark for all your successes, you make me so proud to be a woman of color. I too grew up in the Normandy area in the 70's and counselors did try discouraging people of color about attending colleges, sad, your comment regarding that matter brought back memories. I'm glad you realized You Can! and Did! Congratulations!!!
1/7/2019 2:55 PM
1/7/2019 4:08 PM
Wow congratrulations Dr.Denmark you are a good role model for our young people,and I also love talking with you .
1/7/2019 6:44 PM
What a role model! What an inspiration! God bless you Dr. Denmark and your entire family!
1/8/2019 12:05 AM
What a wonderful and inspiring story Dr.Denmark. You're such a wonderful and strong person. Please keep up the great work and continue inspiring others like you just inspired me with your story.
1/8/2019 7:39 AM
A wonderful, empowering story for young women. Congratulations, Dr. Denmark, on your inspiring story and on your beautiful family.
1/8/2019 9:16 AM
GOD'S BLESSINGS TO YOU DR. DENMARK, SUCH A INSPIRING STORY.WE CAN BE ALL THAT WE WANT TO BE.
1/8/2019 9:34 AM
"THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE!" WAY TO GO DR. DENMARK:)
1/8/2019 10:22 AM
Thank You, Dr. Denmark
1/8/2019 10:25 AM
1/8/2019 11:07 AM
Awesome work Dr. Denmark!!!
1/8/2019 11:14 AM
1/8/2019 11:30 AM
I love this story!
1/8/2019 11:43 AM
What an awesome story. It is very heartwarming. Congratulations on your success & also on your future endeavors. May God bless you and your family.
1/8/2019 12:24 PM
This is an awesome article. I found it totally inspiring and well worth sharing with high school, middle school, and elementary school students. She had a very powerful journey. Many children could use this story as inspiration to go far in their own life's journey
1/8/2019 12:36 PM
Absolutely awesome! You definitely are living out your assignment... Stay the course and remain focused. God Bless!
1/8/2019 5:59 PM
Soooo inspiring!! Thank you so much Dr. Denmark
1/8/2019 10:23 PM
Thank you for sharing your awesome story. If it just touches one person to know they "Can" then you can say.. Job Well Done.. Such an inspirational story!
1/9/2019 8:24 AM
Thank you for striving for your dreams and being an inspiration to those who have been told they can't!
1/9/2019 8:57 AM
This is truly amazing!! I got inspired as I read the story!! Keep doing what you do inspiring children every where! May God continue to enrich and expand your horizons!
1/9/2019 10:33 AM
Your story reminds me of what my mother always told me. "Never say I can't, always say I'll try". You did and came out successful! Thanks for sharing.
1/10/2019 9:30 AM
I had no idea about MY DOCTOR's journey. I feel truly blessed to be under your care! Thank you for being an inspiration to the young and the more seasoned (myself)! This transparent and uplifting article makes me admire you EVEN MORE!
1/10/2019 1:49 PM
This is a wonderful story. This journey show's people that you cant let anyone discourage you, from become who you know you can be. Congrats Dr. Denmark you are a blessing to the black community.
1/11/2019 8:04 AM
I must agree with Erika above, a very inspiring story. Dr. Denmark is also very down to earth with her patients. She also comes in, sits down and chats. She really does want to know her patients. Congratulations, and I can't wait for your next book of inspiration.
1/11/2019 9:57 AM
I enjoyed reading about your story, may you inspire others to reach for their dreams. Now we need to encourage and ensure our education system offers ALL children quality learning experiences.
1/11/2019 3:34 PM
Great Job Dr. Denmark. I am absolutely inspired and need to do something for Technology
1/12/2019 4:19 AM
This is a very inspiring story! I thank you so much for sharing this with us. I just ordered the book and can't wait to read it to my little ones and myself! Dreams do come true!!!
1/14/2019 2:06 PM
I can't add anymore than what has already been said. BRAVO Dr. Denmark! I love that you wrote this children's book and can't wait to read it to my girls!!
1/15/2019 7:29 AM
CONGRATULATIONS Dr. Denmark, your story is so inspiring. I had to print it out for my granddaughter whose currently attending Jennings Jr. High as an 8th grader. She's been accepted into the Honor Society & this is her 2nd yr. of being in College Prep along with being a piano player. I really admire everything you've achieve and overcome. Continue to do well. Looking forward to meeting this Bless and wonderful lady. I will definitely be purchasing your book, my granddaughter has 2 other siblings who looks up to her. AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1/15/2019 8:38 AM
Dr. Denmark you are truly inspiring, is there way in which the public can assist you in getting your book to those who can't afford to buy it? I would like to help if there is a website.
1/15/2019 10:23 AM
This is such an inspiring story. It is also sad to think that there are teachers, counselors, etc. out there telling children not to pursue their dreams. Kudos to you Dr. Denmark for all the hard work you put in to achieve your dreams in spite of them.
1/15/2019 1:29 PM
What an inspiring story! Welcome back home and welcome to BJC.
1/18/2019 6:50 AM
Hi, Dr. Denmark;
Ok, you've started it! Should we be ready for the "Olivia's" series??? We're waiting patiently and excitingly for the next book. (Smile). We so very proud of you.
1/18/2019 7:57 AM
I typically don't take the time to read these articles --- today, I'm glad I did. Thank you for sharing your story. It is very inspiring.
1/23/2019 10:32 AM
Very encouraging story and I will share this with my daughter who has dreams of becoming a doctor one day.
1/24/2019 10:58 AM
Congratulations, Dr. Denmark! What an amazing article! You are a testament that great people can come from Jennings. Such beautiful family. May God continue to bless you in all of your future endeavors.
1/24/2019 3:47 PM
Congratulations Dr. Denmark! You are a role model! Thank you for letting our little girls know that "You Can" pursue your dreams, and letting them know that with determination, you can accomplish your dreams. You are an inspiration!
1/29/2019 7:42 AM
1/31/2019 2:45 PM
We own the book for our daughters...one shares the same name with the protagonist! We love it and look forward to more books in the series! Thank you!
2/2/2019 1:39 PM
Congratulations! Keep your faith and watch how God continues to open doors to bless you and your family! Thank you!
2/4/2019 10:29 AM
Congratulations! My Amazon order arrived on Friday and I enjoyed reading it to my 8 year old daughter over the weekend. Well done! And thanks to BJC Today for this article -- love learning more about the great things happening in our community!