Mother. Daughter. Mentor. Advocate. Leader. And friend. All these words describe the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association's (HBA) 2011 Woman of The Year, Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall. Yet none is enough to explain the keen observational skills and engagement assets that have placed her squarely on the path to where she sits today: A key member of the "C suite" at the world's largest biomedicines company.
Recently, Pharm Exec had the opportunity to sit down with Lewis-Hall to learn about the experiences, both professional and personal, which brought her the HBA award and built her career in linking the profession of medicine to the larger politics of public health.
Seeds of Success
A "can-do" attitude and the natural inclination to help others are traits that Lewis-Hall says were literally seared into the fabric of her childhood from day one. Besides having supportive, encouraging parents who she says "actually believed [she] could fly," Lewis-Hall also had an uncle who moved in with her family when she was a toddler. Her uncle, a paraplegic, spent a great deal of time fashioning everyday tools for himself to use for chores so that he was able to maintain his self-sufficiency. Years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came to fruition in 1990, Lewis-Hall grew up with a role model in the house whose motto—which he practiced literally and philosophically every day—was, "When things seem out of reach, move closer."
Pfizer "has a lot of experience [in global health]," says Lewis-Hall, pictured here in Uganda, and "would love personally to become more involved in that and to appply the medical community of Pfizer to this work in a bigger way." (GETTY IMAGES / ALANIE/LIFE FILE)
If her uncle's adaptability to his own condition instilled in Lewis-Hall an enterprising attitude, then the rest of her family's reaction taught her selflessness, cooperation, and generosity of spirit: "In our house, there were stairs that led up to the bedrooms. My uncle would wait [there] in the evenings if he was too tired to walk up with his crutches. My dad would be out late driving a cab ... and I would hear him come in and literally carry my uncle up the stairs. It was the idea that we were always there for each other and literally carried each other on our backs to make things happen," she recalls. "It was profound learning about being part of a community, and for me, now, being part of a workplace."
One other person became a crucial part of the family unit that Lewis-Hall observed in her early years—Dr. Settles, the family physician. "I saw my uncle treated and moved along not just by the love and attention of the family, but by the medical care he received," she explains. "By age six, I was hooked. I really knew that some way, some how, I was going to be a physician."