As a child growing up in the West Indies, Dr. Barbara Hutchinson was fascinated by the dynamics of her family’s health – and how it might affect her own.
“My father’s side of the family seemed to have had heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, whereas my mother’s side of the family was relatively healthy,” Hutchinson said. “I always had the curiosity of wanting to know why the difference, because in my little mind, they were from the same place, so there should not have been this wide discrepancy. So that curiosity led me to want to be a heart specialist.”
Hutchinson, the managing partner of Chesapeake Cardiac Care in Bowie, has been treating patients for cardiovascular disease and related health problems for nearly 30 years, and has been a long-standing member of the Association of Black Cardiologists.
The American Heart Association of Baltimore & Greater Maryland is honored to recognize Dr. Barbara Hutchinson as the recipient of the 2023 Watkins-Saunders Award.
Established in 2012 to honor two of the Association’s greatest volunteers – the late Dr. Levi Watkins and the late Dr. Elijah Saunders – the award is bestowed upon individuals or organizations in Maryland that have been champions in the fight against health disparities and inequities.
The award will be officially presented to Dr. Hutchinson during a virtual ceremony on June 15.
After earning undergraduate degrees from University of the West Indies in Trinidad, Hutchinson came to the Maryland area to attend medical school. She earned her PhD in cardiovascular pharmacology from Howard University, then attended the University of Maryland for her medical school training, residency and cardiology fellowship, graduating in 1993.
While at University of Maryland, Hutchinson became the first Black president of a medical school class at the college.
“At the time, I thought, it’s just another position in the class. Now looking back, I recognize, at that particular point in time, it was significant,” Hutchinson said.
While attending Maryland, she was part of, at the time, the largest class of Black students trained in one medical school class. She met often with Dr. Donald Wilson, the Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the first Black dean at a primarily white medical school in the United States.
Hutchinson entered private practice shortly after graduating from the UM School of Medicine. She co-founded Chesapeake Cardiac Care and has been its managing partner since 2006.
For more than 30 years, Dr. Hutchinson has been part of The Association of Black Cardiologists. She served as the organization’s president in 2016-2017 and is now the chairperson of the ABC board.
The international nonprofit organization is made up of health professionals, community health advocates, corporate and institutional members, dedicated to eliminating disparities related to cardiovascular disease in all people of color, according to its website.
One of the board’s initiatives over the years to address inequities has been to increase the pipeline of Black students going into the field of cardiology, she said.
“Starting now in high schools, we’re making students aware of the field, getting them interested in and exposing them to the field, having them meet doctors that look like them so that they know it’s an option for them,” Hutchinson said.
Workforce development is crucial to improving access for underrepresented populations, she said.
“We have to work on increasing the number of minorities that are going into cardiovascular [medicine], because it affects us the most, and because people feel comfortable seeing people who look like them,” Hutchinson said.
Access to healthcare is a major problem in the United States, she added, and underrepresented minority groups are the ones affected most.
“We really have to work harder at that in ensuring that group can have access to the cardiovascular care that they need,” she said.
To learn more about the history of the Watkins-Saunders Award, view this video.