Tamieka Howell, M.D., grew up in government housing and received help from other government assistance programs, but she had two strong female role models to show her that she didn't have to be content to finish where she started. During her childhood, Howell's mother went to law school, and her grandmother, a nurse, went back to school to earn a master's degree in education.
"My grandmother really challenged me," said Howell, a family physician in Greensboro, N.C. "If I came home with a mediocre grade, she wanted to know why it wasn't an A. If I didn't have homework, she would give me some."
When others tried to talk Howell out of her dream of becoming a physician, she didn't question her goals.
"I had people saying, 'Are you sure you don't want to be a nurse?'" she said. "The biggest thing for me is really being true to yourself and not conforming to what other people think you should be."
Now Howell is trying to foster that kind of self-confidence in young people, including the largely minority student body at her children's elementary school.
"I mentor as much as I can so children can see people who look like them in professional roles," she said. "I want them to see that they can be a doctor. I want to be present and help spark something in those kids so they can do great things."
Last year, Howell wrapped up nearly a decade of continuous service on the North Carolina AFP Board of Directors, including a term as president. She previously had served as her chapter's resident member of the Board. Now she is a member of the AAFP's Commission on Membership and Member Services. She previously served the Academy as a regional and national family medicine interest group coordinator.
She'll be talking to students and residents again when she serves as a panelist during the Aug. 1 main-stage session at this year's virtual National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students. The session will examine the impact of family medicine, highlighting how family physicians can lead change.
"If no one speaks up, change won't happen," she said. "I've struggled with that at times. I've made it my mission the past few years to speak up and be more vocal.”
Howell stepped away from a full-time clinical role earlier this year to take a job as a corporate medical director so she could spend more time with her young children. But she's not about to walk away from leadership roles in organized medicine.
"I've thought about that, but then I asked myself, 'Who will replace me if I'm not there at these types of meetings to mentor young women and minorities?'" she said. "They need to see that, yes, you too can be a leader and effect change related to what you are passionate about.”
Howell said it invigorates her to be with colleagues at state and national meetings.
"It excites me to be among others who have a passion for family medicine," she said. "People who are in leadership roles aren't just there to put it on their resume or as a steppingstone to the next thing. They truly believe in the mission and vision of an organization. Medicine can drag you down. When I'm at a meeting, it gives me extra wind in my sails."