Charlotte Owens Physiology, 1990
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Betsy Towner Levine
When Charlotte Owens arrived at UC Davis as a freshman, the late Physiology Professor Harry Colvin told her that if she would follow his three rules, she'd be able to get into any medical school she wanted.
First, he would pick all of her classes. Second, they would meet frequently. And third, she would study hard, "because everyone at Davis is really smart."
Upon graduation, Owens had indeed earned herself a full merit scholarship to her top-choice medical school, the University of Michigan Medical School. And in Dr. Colvin she had gained a lifelong mentor whose model of rigor and care she would emulate throughout her own career.
"Dr. Colvin was central to my understanding of the real meaning of benevolence," Dr. Owens said. "I was so lucky to have him as my mentor. He made me a promise that came true—if you stick to these three things, you'll get into any medical school that you want. Then he worked with me to get there. It really shaped me in immeasurable ways to be the person I am trying to be everyday."
Recipient of the 2013 College of Biological Sciences Distinguished Undergraduate Alumni Award, Owens has spent her medical career putting benevolence into practice. Throughout her career she has advanced health care both through research and through programs to reach underserved peoples around the world.
Today Owens is the Director of the Division of Industry Collaborative Research, Chief Medical Officer at the Office of Translational Technologies and Assistant Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at Morehouse School of Medicine.
Sound like a mouthful?
"It is," she laughed.
What her titles add up to is a career that combines medical practice, teaching, clinical trials and networking to advance relationships between pharmaceutical research and the university.
"Morehouse School of Medicine was initially founded initially to increase the number of primary care physicians for the state of Georgia and is dedicated to the mission of eliminating health disparities. In building longitudinal relationships with industry—from bench to bedside and beyond—we benefit our community not only by the research we do, but also by creating the partnerships with pharma to get medicines and devices into the communities that need them most."
Owens was nominated for the Alumni Award by Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, the Dean and Executive Vice President of Morehouse School of Medicine, who wrote: "Due to Dr. Owens' tremendous drive, superb work ethic, intelligence and ability to motivate others, she has had a fast career trajectory since starting at Morehouse."
Indeed, Owens' dedication to bringing health care to underserved peoples has been clear since her undergraduate years here at Davis, when she worked with Clinica Tepati, a student-run free clinic for the underserved Chicano/Latino community in Sacramento, and helped organize UC Davis' annual Black Family Week.
"I think I have a special passion about this because growing up in Oakland in the inner city, I saw how common a lot diseases still are and it is my calling to do my part," she said. "I don't feel like it's my motivation, more like it's my obligation to connect people, to connect resources and novel ideas, to help people build multiple bridges to help solve world health problems."
Owens has received numerous performance awards and has led product development efforts to provide access to new medical technologies and health care options globally in Africa, Asia, South America, Australia and Europe through lectures, clinical trials and working in underserved communities. Owens has also developed expertise in health care capacity building and health care delivery utilizing in-country resources to promote sustainable, transformational change.
"The one thing that I've learned about international travel as a whole, that really makes me passionate about understanding how to approach disease diagnosis, treatment or prevention is the necessity to act globally. This does not mean you forget your local environment, rather it helps you understand if a disease behaves differently in different populations. Also, as developing countries increase their gross domestic product, their diseases focus will likely change," Owens said.
Infectious disease is a primary focus of research and funding in poorer nations, but chronic disease becomes should become a major player as countries grow richer. With either type of illness, looking at just one population provides limited information—crossing multiple populations can help unlock key information.
In her nominating letter, Montgomery Rice also wrote of Owens' dedication to mentoring students.
"As a Dean, it is very rewarding to have faculty members and leaders, like Dr. Owens, who consistently give their best effort and dedication to medical education, medical technology and the health care community at large. Dr. Owens is placing her fingerprints on trainees of the future by ensuring they have the skills to become competent physicians, as well as being a role model of what a compassionate physician can accomplish."
Indeed, the young student whose professor once picked all of her classes has become an exemplary mentor herself.
Dr. Colvin would be proud.