A Healing Touch

A Healing Touch

Dr. Joan Coker remembers the exact moment she decided to go into the health care field. Her grandfather, a minister, died suddenly of a heart attack while preaching on a Sunday morning when she was 16.
“I remember feeling such a sense of helplessness,” says Coker, outpatient clinical director of otolaryngology at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, which is affiliated with Martin Luther King Hospital. That sense of helplessness prompted Coker to pursue a nursing career like her older sister, and she registered for nursing classes at Tuskegee University. But she credits her aunt for inspiring her ultimate career choice.
“She said, ‘Why be a nurse if you can be a doctor?’ ” Coker recalls. These words boosted her confidence, and expanded Coker’s horizons.
Following her graduation from medical school, Coker did her surgical internship at Howard University and her residency in otolaryngology, the study of ear, nose and throat, at Charles Drew, where she has remained as a physician for seven years.
Coker is a respected authority in surgical management of sleep disorder breathing, such as sleep apnea, upper airway resistance and the age-old problem of snoring. Coker is the attending physician for residents and supervises medical students rotating through the otolaryngology department.
In addition, she is instrumental in a program supported by Charles Drew University School of Medicine and Science and a nearby inner-city magnet school. Some students are able to spend time at the hospital, learning about health care professions.
“I think the exposure allows them to make choices,” Coker says.
Coker says her parents, Beatrice and Lawrence Coker, inspired her to excel. Her mother always told her, “You have to make things happen.”
She thinks the sixth-grade teacher who taught her science, Gloria Grantham, was the first to recognize and encourage her talent for science. Coker enrolled in the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME), a Saturday program sponsored by DuPont for high school students with strong science skills.
Coker, who is involved in the early planning stages of a tentative diagnosis center at Charles Drew, offers advice for those on the rise in their careers: “No matter what level of achievement you obtain, respect everyone. And effective communication is always important,” she says.  
— By Eleanor Lee Yates



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