Dr. Delana Wardlaw is an educator in every sense of the word.
The 2020 Pennsylvania Co-Family Physician of the Year, Wardlaw, a 1996 biology alumna and a family medicine physician at Temple Physicians Inc. in Nicetown, is committed to addressing inequities in health care. She promotes health literacy at Temple Health and in the Philadelphia community through her and her twin sister’s organization, Twin Sister Docs.
Wardlaw visits patients of all ages and of multiple generations of families at her practice, where she offers a variety of medical services, like mammograms and colonoscopies, diagnoses and treats chronic illnesses, like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and provides mental health services, she said.
“They have a continuity of care, knowing that when you go to the doctor’s office, you’ll have the same physician each time, so you don’t have to keep reiterating your story or going over past events that have occurred because, I’m familiar with all the patients that are there,” Wardlaw said.
Wardlaw is also involved in community service work with groups, like The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, Nicetown Community Development Corporation, The Links, Incorporated and ODUNDE’s “I Am Beautiful, Unique, Magnificent, Individual,” the nation’s largest African-American culture festival.
Wardlaw, 46, grew up in Strawberry Mansion and decided to pursue medicine after her grandmother died from breast cancer at age 53. She would’ve had a higher chance of survival if she’d been diagnosed earlier and received proper medical screenings, Wardlaw said.
“That is a significant barrier in medicine, access to quality care for everyone and that is a huge part of my mission as a health care advocate to make sure that everyone receives quality care,” she added.
A 2016 study from Health Affairs found that Philadelphia neighborhoods with more Black residents had less access to health care, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Wardlaw believes that when patients are involved in the health care process and spoken to clearly, there is a higher chance that they’ll follow medical recommendations and ask better questions about their illnesses, she said.
“Health care literacy is a big issue, and where we have to make sure that we as physicians are speaking to patients at a level that they understand and because that can also affect compliance and a patient’s ability to be able to follow recommendations,” Wardlaw said.
Health literacy is a person’s ability to understand and utilize health-related information to make better decisions about personal health.
But Wardlaw’s dedication to inspiring health literacy in all of her patients goes beyond her practice in Nicetown.
Wardlaw and her twin sister, Dr. Elana McDonald, started Twin Sister Docs, an advocacy group, in early 2020 to promote health literacy through their website, various social media accounts and shows, like Good Morning America and 6ABC, Wardlaw said.
Twin Sister Docs discusses many health-related topics, like mammograms, cardiovascular disease, cancer screenings, mental health and most recently, COVID-19, McDonald said.
“COVID is what we’re dealing with right now because that’s the immediate need, but we also have to acknowledge all the issues, you know, such as this systemic racism and a lack of access to health care and the implicit bias,” McDonald said.
Seven out of 10 ZIP codes with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia are majority Black and Latino, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Because of previous instances of experimentation on Black people, like the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee which studied Black men who had syphilis but did not offer them treatment, many people in the Black community have a distrust toward medicine, Wardlaw said.
One in three Black and Hispanic people who didn’t have access to healthcare said they didn’t participate in clinical trials or get vaccinated because of this lack of trust, according to a study from Genentech, an American biotechnology corporation.
Wardlaw’s commitment to Philadelphians should be the standard for every physician, said Dr. Wilfreta Baugh, Wardlaw and McDonald’s mentor.
As juniors at Temple, Wardlaw and McDonald interned with the Medical Society of Eastern Pennsylvania through the Black Student Union and met Baugh, Wardlaw said.
“My relationship with her was one exposing her to not only patient protocol, diseases that you encounter in a primary care or doctor’s office, how you keep records, how you follow up with patients, but you treated them as if they were a colleague,” Baugh said.
Baugh taught Wardlaw and McDonald to always be professional with their patients as a sign of respect, she said.
“I wanted a career where I can have a direct impact on my patients, not only on the patient, but on the community,” Wardlaw said. “Medicine allows you to be able to have a unique bond with your patients to not only address illnesses, but also to allow them to participate in preventive medicine.”