Denice Cora-Bramble, M.D., MBA, left Puerto Rico at age 16 to begin college at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “I cried the entire first year because I was so homesick,” she says. Today, Dr. Cora-Bramble is a nationally recognized pediatric leader who continues to blaze trails. For nearly 20 years at Children’s National Hospital, she served as chief medical officer and executive vice president of Ambulatory and Community Health Services, the first African American, Afro-Latina and woman to hold that position.
In 2020, Dr. Cora-Bramble brought her expertise and vision to a vital new role: the hospital’s first-ever chief diversity officer. “A servant-leadership style is what I live by,” she says. This leadership model prioritizes community and the contributions, growth and success of others.
Children’s National is making strides in its commitment to improve diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) at the hospital and for the community it serves. Patient care is at the core of this strategy. Studies show that when providers represent the diversity of their patients and deliver culturally appropriate care, health outcomes improve. Half of the hospital’s care providers identify as people of color. Among the current class of pediatric residents, 31% identify as “underrepresented in medicine,” well above the national average for residency programs.
Addressing Health Disparities
When Children’s National opened the nation’s first pediatric walk-up/drive-through COVID-19 testing site in March 2020, data published in Pediatrics revealed how disproportionately the coronavirus affected families of color: 30% of Black children and 46% of Latino children, compared to 7% of White children, tested positive. This did not surprise Dr. Cora-Bramble, based on her understanding as a physician of how many Latino families live. “The luxury of being able to socially isolate two to three generations in a two-bedroom apartment is not an option,” she says.
The hospital leads studies to better understand how inequities and obstacles to care impact children’s health. It is exploring issues such as the obesity epidemic in Black children and the link between youth firearm injuries and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is expanding programs for LGBTQ+ families and support systems to connect families with interpretive services, counseling and guidance from parent navigators. “Let’s call the social worker first, not the security guard,” says Dr. Cora-Bramble, referencing a more compassionate approach that responds to patient and family needs.
Building a Legacy
As a woman of color in a C-suite position, Dr. Cora-Bramble knows there are few road maps in the climb to the top. She is passionate about mentoring future Black and Brown clinicians. As her inspiration, she cites a beloved aunt who was an obstetrician-gynecologist in Puerto Rico, and other family members, including her three adult children, four grandkids and husband of 45 years.
Like a true servant leader, Dr. Cora-Bramble passes on her life lessons, part of what she calls legacy building, and intends to bring along many others on her journey to advance DEI. She plans to write a memoir. “I was blessed to reach the pinnacle of my career. I can’t leave that story untold. That wouldn’t help the next generation.”
This article first appeared in inaugural issue of the Children’s National Hospital Foundation magazine, Believe, summer 2022.