Women on the Leading Edge of Medicine
Dr. Aronica V. Williams, a family practice physician and chief medical officer at Milwaukee Health Services, Inc., (MHSI) took a circuitous route to a career in medicine. Born and raised in Milwaukee, after graduating from Golda Meir School and Rufus King International Baccalaureate High School, she attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where she earned an undergraduate degree in music.
“During high school music was my passion and gift, but I was considering a career in engineering, so I participated in a summer program at UW-Milwaukee. At the same time, one of my friends was in another summer bridge program on the campus. While visiting with her, I met her mentor—Dr. Sandra Underwood—who became my mentor. She piqued my interest in medical research and, after participating in her College of Nursing summer bridge program, I changed my focus to medicine,” she said.
Each summer Aronica participated in the medical program and was able to focus on various areas of the field aimed at helping students determine and decide what path in medicine they wanted to pursue as a career.
Since music was always a passion for Aronica, she enrolled in Loyola University, a liberal arts school. While she majored in music, Aronica simultaneously completed many of the medical coursework prerequisites. Upon graduating, she attended Xavier University to take higher level science classes and later entered a medical prep program at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. This program was designed for students who chose nontraditional majors or were science majors. She earned a degree in medicine from the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical School.
Aronica admits that the coursework for a career in medicine is rigorous, but lauds the merits of having a strong support system. She credits her parents for supporting and encouraging her throughout college and her professional career.
“Both my parents had degrees in education and pursued careers in that field, so certainly academic achievement was always important to them.
“I am also grateful for the support of individuals like Dr. Sandra Underwood, Dr. Laurie Thomas and Dr. Mary Horowitz, of the Medical College of Wisconsin, who helped and encouraged me during the summers when I was in the medical school and worked at the Medical College,” said Aronica.
Because she was attracted to the field of medicine through UW-Milwaukee’s summer bridge program, Aronica served as a mentor while she was in medical school, giving back to the program that had introduced her to the field of medicine.
“These days I continue to mentor students who are interested in pursuing medical careers and create opportunities for them to shadow me in my clinics. One of the main thrusts for me and Dr. Tito Izard, Chief Executive Officer of MHSI, is creating a pipeline for individuals interested in medical careers with the goal of increasing the number of African American students entering medical schools,” she said.
In her spare time, Aronica is active in the community and her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, where she serves as president of her chapter. She is also involved with youth advocacy and creating more opportunities for other medical students through involvement with organizations like the Cream City Medical Society.
“I believe it’s important to educate others about the importance of health and spending time mentoring individuals interested in medical careers. I also try to give voice to some of those who may not necessarily have one. I’m involved with my church through health-related initiatives and my gift of music. Music can be medicine for the soul for some people so I enjoy using that gift in my spare time,” she said.
Aronica acknowledges that many patients continue to be surprised when they first see her.
“Many times people don’t expect to see an African American physician—particularly a woman, so there’s always that challenge of bridging the gap to help other people become comfortable with me. “I want people to think of me as a bridge builder; someone who assists others in attaining their goals, even if it’s not related to medicine. I don’t know everything, but I am willing to help find the answer. As we make progress, it’s important to look behind you to help others progress. We can make it together, and it becomes an easier lift; empowering, building bridges and lifting as we climb,” she said.