Caring for Generations
By MELANIE KILGORE-HILL
Lorraine Charles Bridges Past, Future through Medicine
Lorraine Charles, MD, has a passion for the underserved. A family practice physician at Saint Thomas Medical Partners, Charles is a Brooklyn native born to Haitian parents, and she remains deeply rooted in the culture and welfare of her family's native home.
Charles received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Long Island's Adelphi University before moving to Nashville to attend Meharry Medical College. She said the school's commitment to health disparities and the underserved mirrored her own ideals surrounding medicine.
"Meharry's culture focused on the underserved and those with limited access to healthcare," Charles said. "Growing up in Brooklyn, I had seen similar environments and knew I wanted to be a part of eliminating health disparities."
Charles completed a residency in family medicine at the University Health Science Center in Tyler, Texas, before returning to Nashville for her current role.
The oldest of four children, Charles helped as a caregiver to her younger siblings and her Creole-speaking grandparents, whom she often accompanied to doctors' appointments. By the time she was a teenager, Charles was already well versed in healthcare and the challenges facing the elderly.
"I was their translator but also helped them learn to take medications and make appointments," she said. "I loved caring for the elderly, and that experience gave me the desire to be in the trenches, working at both ends of the spectrum with the young and the old."
Today, she enjoys practicing the full scope of primary care and loves seeing everyone in the family from granddaughter to grandmother.
In 2008, Charles went on her first medical mission trip to Haiti. She was struck both by the challenges and the innovation common to providers working with very limited resources. It was here that she met her future husband, Mario, and returned for medical missions in 2012 and 2015.
In 2014, Charles was named 'Mrs. Haiti International,' and used her platform to educate Haitians on pre- and post-natal care, as well as safer birth practices.
At home in Nashville, Charles continues her crusade for women's health issues and preventative care, encouraging patients to follow up on physicals, pap smears, mammograms and bone density tests.
"I see all ages of women - from those in their teens with changing needs to those having children and in their final years," she said. "Women are often the center of their families and the ones caring for everyone else, so my goal is to keep them well for as long as possible."
Working with multiple generations has given Charles unique insight into the changing attitudes and education surrounding a woman's care. "I see a shift in young people taking charge of their health," she said. "They know they need to stay ahead of the game, and I like being in a position to further educate and help protect them in the long run."
She also continues her work with the underserved, always seeking new ways to help those on limited funds or with no access to primary care. Since symptoms from high blood pressure and diabetes often go unnoticed, Charles said patients often believe they're completely healthy until they visit the doctor.
"Some things are there whether we acknowledge them or not, and I try to teach patients that coming to the doctor helps to get a handle on that, rather than causing it," she said.
Another struggle among at-risk or minority populations is a misunderstanding of diagnoses and treatment plans. "A lot of these patients don't really understand why a certain drug is needed, so I spend a little more time explaining why and the risks of not taking their medications," she said. "They need to understand that although a problem isn't bad right now, we're trying to avoid long-term complications to reduce those risks."
When she's not in the office, Charles spends her free time traveling, practicing yoga, salsa dancing and singing in her church choir. In 2016, Charles embarked on yet another adventure when she and Mario welcomed their daughter, Leilani.