When you think of Diana Ross, you may think of the talented singer, the lead singer of the legendary singing group, The Supremes. Or you may even think of her talented daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross. But the talent doesn’t just stop there. There was another member of the family who is also legendary, but just in another field: Medicine.
Growing up in inner city Detroit, Barbara Ross-Lee and her sister Diana shared a fondness for show business, performing with their brothers and sisters in the church choir. But while Diana pursued a career in music and soon to being the lead singer of the “Supremes,” Barbara made her mark in the sciences.
Barbara began her pre-medical studies at Detroit’s Wayne State University in 1960, during the growth of the Civil Rights movement. Although a few medical schools offered admission to minority students there were no federal or private funding to help support students from poor families. At Wayne State, her pre-med advisor did not believe women should be physicians, and so she declined to authorize Ross’s major request. So Ross graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry in 1965 and went on to train as a teacher.
She joined the National Teacher Corps so she could earn a degree while teaching simultaneously in the Detroit public school system. After completing the program in 1969, a new educational opportunity arose. Michigan State University opened a school of osteopathic medicine in Pontiac, a Detroit suburb, and so Ross applied and was accepted. As a single mother she needed help with childcare to be able to focus on her studies, so she sold her house and moved in with her own mother.
After graduating from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1973, Dr. Ross-Lee ran a solo family practice in Detroit until 1984, when she joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a consultant on education in the health professions. As well as serving on numerous committees Dr. Ross-Lee was also community representative on the Governor’s Minority Health Advisory Committee for the state of Michigan from 1990 to 1993. In 1991 she was also the first osteopathic physician to participate in the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship.
Barbara has worked in private practice, for the U.S. Public Health Service, and on numerous committees, and in 1993 was the first African American woman to be appointed dean of a United States medical school.