Advocating for Patients, Especially Women of Color, Through the Complexities of the Healthcare System

Emelle Holmes-Drammeh

APP Champion: Emelle Holmes-Drammeh, PA, Obstetrics and Gynecology, UW Health 20 S. Park Clinic.

Throughout Emelle’s 14 years in the medical field, she has always had a desire to take care of women.

Her love for medicine started when she was a young girl living in Gary, Indiana. “I was in fifth grade. I wanted to be a doctor. I would read encyclopedias from cover to cover and was fascinated with the human body and how it worked,” she says with a smile.

Emelle’s mother was a nurse and avid volunteer, which is where Emelle says her investigative medical curiosity started. Her path in medicine quickly switched when she learned how daunting and long her education and training would be to get her medical degree. “I wanted to be a mom and start my family as soon as possible. I learned about the physician assistant career and the rest is history, as I would be able to have the best of both worlds.”

After she completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Pre-Medicine and Chemistry at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she earned her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, California. Emelle then worked for a few years in colorectal surgery at UW Health in Madison, prior to starting and completing the Mark B. Adams Postgraduate Surgical Residency for PAs at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She says she loved working in the hospital setting and especially in the operating room.

“I enjoy advocating for all patients through the complexities of the healthcare system. I am a proud advocate for women and especially women of color.”

Emelle is involved in several community health initiatives, including humanitarian work in The Gambia, West Africa, where she does an annual back-to-school drive for different community primary schools in the country. She also works as a member of the Madison-Kanifing Sister City to help bring donated medical supplies and other resources to the country. Emelle is a physician assistant preceptor, leading obstetrics skills labs and she serves on two UW Health diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committees, one for PAs and the other for OB-GYN. She is also a parent member of the DEI committee at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie. In 2018, Emelle and previous colleagues started a local not-for-profit called Beat the Blues Cruise that brings awareness to suicide prevention. Recently, she started her training to become a doula through the Harambee Village in Madison. 

Last year, Emelle wrote a statement of support for H.R.6142 Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020, which was introduced in the House in March. This act would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to address maternal health outcomes among minority populations. And in 2016, she developed a pain protocol at the hospital where she previously worked, that decreased narcotic use in the postpartum population by 76 percent over three years. This protocol was presented and adopted systemwide. She was also just notified, pending senate confirmation, Gov. Evers has appointed her to the newly formed Physician Assistant Affiliated Credentialing Board.

Emelle is proud of the work UW Health is doing with DEI in dismantling healthcare disparities and racism. “We are doing important work but we need to do more. We all need to take a step back and really check ourselves for those biases that we do not even recognize we have. We have to check them at the door of every patient’s room and give them the same level of care that we would want our own family members to receive.”

“One memory that touches my heart is when I worked in the OB-GYN inpatient unit at a local hospital. There was a patient I was going to see after her second delivery. When I walked into the room, her husband started yelling, “She’s here! She’s here!” It startled me. I didn’t know what he was talking about. The patient came out of the bathroom and when she saw me, she began to cry. She went on to state that when she had her last pregnancy, it resulted in an emergency C-section. She said she remembered me holding her hand and calming her down as she was whisked away to the operating room where I helped deliver her baby. I don’t recall that time, because I aim to treat all of my patients that way. But it makes my heart happy because it reminds me that our actions have great impact on the people we come in contact with.”

Emelle says her patients have taught her that we all have a lot in common in terms of our anatomy and the disease processes we may experience. “Where we differ is in the communities we come from and the life experiences we have had. All these things make us who we are. I’ve learned that when I see a patient who presents with pelvic pain, and all work-up has been negative, I must look at her as more than another young woman with pelvic pain. There is so much more to them than their chief complaint. By tapping into who they are as people, understanding their experiences and treating them holistically, we can actually heal their spirits as well as their ailments.”

When asked to describe the team of professionals she works with at UW Health, she said she is surrounded by very kind providers, nursing staff, medical assistants and schedulers who all work together to make the ship run. “Not one of us can do the job alone. They are dedicated, consistent and caring.”

Emelle lives in Madison with her two daughters, Taylor (12) and Nyima (7), and her husband of 9 years, Lamin.