When a letter from Johns Hopkins University arrived in the mail, Tashima could not contain her excitement.
In school, she worked hard to get the grades and test scores to be accepted into her dream college. Tashima could see herself on campus at “Hopkins.” A girl from the Caribbean, she would be the first in her family to earn a college degree.
Yet, the financial strains of going to a private university were too much for her family and Tashima’s father told her she couldn’t go.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I was like, how am I going to be a doctor if I can’t go to Hopkins?”
At six years old, Tashima Lambert knew she was going to be a doctor. She watched TV shows about the medical field, fantasizing about her future and making plans for how she would get there.
Despite not going to Johns Hopkins, Tashima still moved to the United States at 17 with financial aid to the University of Virginia, a move she calls “the best decision ever.”
Tashima said adjusting to college life in a different country was “difficult” and that her background put her at a disadvantage compared to other students. Overcoming those obstacles, she would go on to medical school at Temple University.
“That’s when things kinda changed for me,” Tashima said. “It was the realization of what happened when you actually are well prepared, and how that transitions into your next step of life.”
Between undergrad and medical school, Tashima had taken out more than $95,000 in loans. Worried about how she would pay off school and get a job, she joined the National Health Service Corps in school. Upon joining, her loans would be forgiven, and she would go on to practicing as an Obstetrician and OBGYN in Washington, D.C.
For the past two years, Tashima, now 31, has worked at Unity Health Center in Southeast, D.C. Here she serves mainly low-income women of color, helping them care for their reproductive health, pregnancies, and adolescence.
Most of her patients in Southeast are black people who lack trust in medical professionals, according to Tashima.
“Being able to be a highly trained physician for those patients changes the game,” Tashima said. “It changes what they view as healthcare and recognize that they’re getting the same care and same advice that if they went to GW (George Washington Hospital).”
She believes that the most important aspect to helping communities holistically is for the best trained medical professionals to work and stay in these areas, even if D.C. was not her first choice.
“It was definitely my fiancé’s decision to move to a city. I wanted to kinda do something a little bit more rural,” Tashima said. “I like the idea of caring for a community and I felt like it wasn’t something I could do in a city.”
However, in the past two years, Tashima has helped entire families of women and knows that her presence there has already made a difference in the type of care women seek, trust, and ask for.
“For the first time I was actually able to deliver my own patient that has never seen anyone else,” Tashima said. Her white smile beaming from the other side of the computer screen during the Zoom interview.
“That has been my happiest moment, and made me say ‘OK, maybe I can have the community I envisioned here,’” said Tashima.
Tashima’s voice softened and cracked when she told the story of having to tell a patient one month before their due date that their baby had passed during an ultrasound appointment.
“She is both empathetic and sympathetic, I don’t think a lot of people can do both,” said Keturah Carr, 32. “She’s has a certain level of compassion and comfort that is warming to the spirit. I think she’s able to relate to all sorts of clients from all backgrounds.”
Keturah met Tashima as freshmen at UVA almost twenty years ago and now practices law in New York. Miles apart, the two still talk to each other every day. Recently, Tashima asked Keturah to be her Maid of Honor.
“If I wasn’t doing this phone interview, I would probably be talking to her!” said Carr as she laughed through the phone.
To relax from the demands of work, Tashima binge-watches rom-coms and finds new restaurants with her fiancé, Antonio. They met when she was in residency at Duke University.
With the sudden changes brought by coronavirus, Tashima still hopes for her wedding on October 3, the anniversary date of the Obamas and her parents.
She also plans to eventually return to the Virgin Islands to practice medicine.
“I definitely see myself going back home, my whole family still lives there,” Tashima smiled. “But for right now, I don’t see myself leaving.”