May 06, 2019 12:09 pm David Mitchell – Growing up in rural Georgia in the 1960s, Beulette Hooks, M.D., has few childhood memories of doctors' offices. She recalls a bout with chickenpox when she was a small child and an infection that she self-diagnosed before an office visit when she was an adolescent.
"We were poor and didn't know it," Hooks said. "We didn't get regular checkups because our parents couldn't afford it. We were healthy children, and we got our vaccines at the public health department."
That lack of exposure to health care actually factored into her decision to become a doctor. After Hooks' grandmother suffered a stroke, she was taken to the nearest hospital in Columbus, Ga.
"We didn't get to say goodbye to Grandma because she was 30 miles away," said Hooks, who spent seven years as a medical director for rural health centers and more recently served as chair of the AAFP's Subcommittee on Health Equity. "That was the biggest influence as far as me thinking about careers in medicine."
When Hooks was nominated for a college scholarship as a high school senior, one of the contest's judges asked her whether she had ever met a black physician.
"I said, 'I have not, but I know what I want to do,'" she said. "Now my charge is to introduce myself to as many young people as possible so they know an African American female physician. I still get people who call me 'nurse' or 'Miss.' I want students to know they can be the physician."
Hooks is sharing that message with a young minority audience. In 2016, she started a Boy Scout Exploring group focused on health care careers. She said the 13- to 18-year-old boys meet at least once a quarter and are exposed to a range of health professionals and care settings, including physical therapy, speech therapy, dentistry and medical school.
Hooks said she emphasizes careers in medicine but doesn't discourage interest in other health professions.
She also shares her love for family medicine with the medical students she precepts (as well as with family medicine residents and students training to be physician assistants and nurses) as a civilian family physician in the family medicine clinic at Fort Benning, Ga.
"I push students to family medicine," said Hooks, whose practice includes performing procedures and caring for patients of all ages. "It's not the same every day. You get to help entire families. I never get bored."
Hooks isn't shy about sharing opinions on other topics, either. She is chair of the AAFP Commission on Health of the Public and Science, serves in the Academy's Congress of Delegates and has been a frequent delegate to the National Conference of Constituency Leaders. She also is a past president of the Georgia AFP.
"Have you ever been in a group of people and a question is asked, but no one wants to say anything?" she asked. "Well, I'm not that person. If a question is asked and I have an opinion, I'm going to give it."
As the oldest of four sisters, Hooks said that trait emerged early. And today, despite their modest beginnings, the quartet consists of a physician, a lawyer, a nuclear medicine technologist and a restaurant manager.
"That was kind of like herding cats," she said of being the oldest sister. "That was an early leadership position for me. If I can help someone get somewhere, I'm going to do it."