Robin Williams, MD
Admiring her pediatrician as a little girl, Robin Williams decided to follow in his footsteps. "When I went to medical school, it was with the intention of becoming a pediatrician," she recalled. "As I went through the clinical rotations, I discovered that surgery was what excited me the most." That change of course has been a blessing to the many patients who have benefitted from Williams' clinical judgment and steady hand to guide them through a frightening diagnosis and treatment.
Williams, who grew up in Maryland and Pennsylvania, attended Johns Hopkins for undergrad followed by medical school at the University of Maryland and a general surgery residency at Howard University Hospital. In addition to her parents, Nathaniel and Mary, Williams credits the surgeons with whom she trained at Howard as setting the tone for her success.
"The experience of being surrounded by surgeons who looked like me was sustaining in the belief of what could be achieved," she said. "What was probably even more unique at the time was that Howard had quite a few women who were in the general surgery training program. When I started, one of the chief residents was female," she continued. "There was a total sense of normalcy about women being in surgery."
An 'accidental' Nashvillian, Williams meant to return to Pennsylvania after training. "One of the residents in radiology at Howard was from Nashville and said Meharry was recruiting surgeons. I came down for an interview, spent the whole day, and the dean offered me a job," she recalled. "I came to Nashville, and I haven't left," she added of her nearly 24 years in practice in Middle Tennessee.
After five and a half years on faculty at Meharry, Williams moved into full-time clinical practice with the last seven years dedicated to management of diseases of the breast. "What I love most about my field is helping to guide women through their journey after a diagnosis of breast cancer, reassuring them that they will get through this period," she said.
Williams noted the time right after diagnosis is the most challenging for patients. "We are usually in a holding pattern because we are awaiting results of biomarkers or other studies before we make a final disposition. It is a frustrating time for the patient," she pointed out. "This is where communication is key in educating the patient regarding the process involved in making management decisions that will provide optimal care."
She continued, "As a physician in general, a challenging aspect is when a patient presents who is uninsured or underinsured. Beyond the care of the physician, patients frequently require coordinated hospital, laboratory and other specialty services."
Enter Project Access Nashville - a program under the leadership of the Nashville Academy of Medicine coordinated through the Medical Foundation of Nashville, which Williams chairs. "Nashville is blessed as a city to have Project Access Nashville, the vehicle through which over $39 million dollars of healthcare has been provided to those in need for over 10-plus years," she said.
In addition to dispensing much needed specialty care, Williams said the Foundation's mission is all about education with programming for physicians and physicians-in-training, along with educating the broader community about the link between lifestyle modifications and improved outcomes. "We are hoping to promote a healthier Nashville," Williams explained.
When she isn't seeing patients or volunteering her services, Williams enjoys book club and is learning to play the guitar. "I've been taking guitar lessons for a few years ... I should be better," she said with a laugh.
Her greatest passion, though, is spending time with family, including the newest addition, nephew Asa. "He is seven months old and just a cutie!" she said. "Every opportunity I have to go home to Maryland, I take. It is an exciting time in our family. We have a newborn, and my niece, Uri, is about to go off to college. Then there is my seven-year-old nephew, Elijah, in the middle who is the entertainer," Williams proudly shared.
As for the future, she hopes to see plenty more smiles on the faces of both family and patients. After taking the journey with patients through a diagnosis of breast cancer and difficult treatment plans, Williams relishes the smiles of victory and true joy that comes with making it to the other side. "I feel privileged when I can be a part of that process," she stated.