Ashley Roxanne Peterson, DO, was 19 years old when she started medical school at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine-Georgia Campus. Last year, she started her family medicine residency at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta at age 24. Dr. Peterson is, to The DO’s knowledge, currently the youngest African-American osteopathic physician.
As a person who grew up with social media, Dr. Peterson has unique insights into the ways this technology can be harnessed in the world of health care. She hosts a podcast for medical professionals and shares health information on Instagram.
“People, myself included, use social media for entertainment, but I want to use it for education and a way to share knowledge with people so they can make informed decisions about their health,” Dr. Peterson says.
In this edited interview, Dr. Peterson discusses her career path and how she uses technology to educate patients and bring medical professionals together.
Your career path has been unique in that you are younger than most of your peers. You’re also a woman in STEM and an African-American. How have these facets of your experience shaped you as a person and as an osteopathic physician?
I hold strong to my race as an African-American. I know I have a history unlike other groups. I made sure I went to schools and programs that had a strong mission to help disenfranchised people. To be real, because of our nation’s history, race and poverty are often linked in our country, and I want to serve people who are minorities, disenfranchised or impoverished.
My ancestors were slaves. My father is from Alabama and some of my family members were a part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. I came from them and they inspire me and give me strength. I want to pay it forward.
How has your age benefited you in your medical career?
Being younger than my peers enables me to bridge the gap between technology and medicine. As a young person, I know pop culture and trends.
I understand and respect the wisdom that people who are older than me bring to medicine. Older doctors can definitely learn social media, but I have a different perspective because I grew up with it and inherently understand certain things, like how social media can cause anxiety and depression in teens in 2020.
How have you used technology and social media in your medical career?
I am really passionate about bringing technology to medicine. My podcast, Real Medicine with Dr. Rox, launched last year and is available on all podcast platforms. I also use IGTV on my Instagram to talk about smoking cessation, mental health, diet, exercise, weight loss and sleep. I use things like polls and questions to make it fun, engaging and informative but not preachy.
With social media it is easy to glamorize medicine as a career, but I want to show the real side of it and talk about things like having kids, burnout, feeling like you don’t have enough time to date in med school and residency, experiences with racism and sexism and how it makes you feel. My hardest times in medical school were when I felt alone, but when I saw other people experiencing the same things and having the same questions as me, it was like breathing a sigh of relief. I want to build a community to help people the same way.
What kind of obstacles have you had to overcome because of your age during medical school or your residency?
You grow by going through the rigors of medical school, but going to medical school so young, I was still growing as a young woman and finding myself and my voice. I definitely had to make sacrifices and resist the urge to act like other 20-year-olds and instead do what people who were five, 10, and even 20 years older than me were doing.
Why did you decide to become an osteopathic physician?
I knew before I went to medical school that I wanted to do primary care. I became intrigued with osteopathic medicine after a meeting with a recruiter. When I applied to medical school, I heard that 70% of osteopathic physicians went into primary care, and I thought an osteopathic school would train me to be the best primary care physician that I could be.
As I did more research about the osteopathic profession, I learned that from the beginning A.T. Still let everyone in—women and black Americans—at a time when other institutions didn’t allow or encourage that. His inclusion really resonated with me.