News Global Health Center COVID-19 Health Equity

New City Director of Health offers talk on career growth for women and leadership during the pandemic

Photo courtesy of The Department of Health, City of St. Louis

From WashU fellow to infectious disease clinician and policy maker, to co-chairing the Fast-Track Cities, St. Louis Initiative to end HIV/AIDS by 2030, Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, MD, MPH, left, knows about being a woman with a strong career trajectory in a male-dominated field. Now, as the new Director of Health for the City of St. Louis, she is sharing insights on leadership at the next Women in Global Health-Midwest Chapter Speaker Series, February 25 at 5 p.m.

Hlatshwayo Davis will share career experiences and thoughts on her passion for community engagement, the care of people living with HIV and the impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities. Her work accomplishments, while balancing as a wife and mother of young children, are a case study in “How to make your career in health care excel”. 

We spoke with Hlatshwayo Davis about the Women in Global Health event and her thoughts on health care career management:

Q: Why is it important to attend the Women in Global Health-Midwest Chapter talk, “Leadership during the Pandemic”?  

A: My talk will focus on both my personal and professional journey to become the Director of Health including barriers I faced as a Black woman and immigrant and how I overcame those. It will then focus on the CoVID-19 pandemic and the city of St. Louis Department of Health’s response under my leadership.

Q: Over the course of your career trajectory, how has being a Black female in the male-dominated health care field affected you?

A: Being a Black woman in a male-dominated health care field was challenging in a number of ways. There are insufficient retention and support structures in our current medical system to ensure we are not subjected to professional inequity. This is worsened by the few numbers of Black women in health care, especially as a physician. It leads to isolation and increased risk of experiencing micro-aggressions, macro-aggressions and overt prejudice.

Q: What are the benefits and challenges of being the “first Black woman Health Director in St. Louis history”? Has the pandemic affected your approach to the role? If so, how?

A: I am the first Black woman physician health director (Dr. Melba Moore DBA, MS, CPHA was the first Black woman). Many question why that should even matter; but for Black and brown communities who have valid mistrust and experience a number of disparities in medicine and public health, representation matters. The pandemic has made it so I do have to have parallel priorities, both CoVID and non-CoVID. Especially given how long the pandemic has continued, we cannot ignore the very real non-CoVID related health priorities and those that have worsened, like mental health.

Q: What advice do you give women working in (or aspiring to work in) global health?

I will share a quote I posted that went viral after I accepted my current position:

Trust your instincts. Know your worth. Be brave enough to forge your own lane if it does not exist. Choose your mentors wisely. And above all, do not be afraid to step into your purpose, because it’s absolutely beautiful here.

Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of health for the City of St. Louis

Women in Global Health – Midwest Chapter Speaker Series, February 25 at 5 p.m. online