Dr. Elana McDonald (right), of Mt. Airy, and Dr. Delana Wardlaw, of East Oak Lane, who call themselves “twin sister docs,” are believed to be one of only two pairs of identical twin African American female medical doctors in the country.

by Len Lear

According to the June 22-29 issue of Time magazine, “In the U.S., black Americans are dying from Covid-19 at twice the rate of their white counterparts. In some states, the disparity is even sharper.” With the pandemic laying bare systemic inequalities and racial discrimination, some people are seizing the moment to push for long-overdue change, such as the “twin sister docs,” Dr. Elana McDonald, of Mt. Airy, and Dr. Delana Wardlaw, of East Oak Lane.

The twin doctors, 45, are not the only pair of twin African American female medical doctors in the country (I was able to find one other pair from Chicago on the internet), but they have educated millions on the disproportionate number of deaths due to Covid-19 because of limited access to health care, poverty, food insecurity, overcrowded housing conditions, etc. Drs. Wardlaw and McDonald have discussed these unpleasant truths during recent national TV appearances on Good Morning America with host Sarah Haines and ABC-TV with Amy Roebuck and Dr. Jen Ashton, as well as weekly radio appearances since April on WURD-900 Tuesdays, 7:45 a.m., with host Solomon Jones.

“Our goal is to decrease the health care disparities,” Dr. McDonald told us last week in a phone interview with the sisters, “expose the systemic racism and implicit bias that produce these unequal outcomes and improve the quality of life in underserved communities.”

The twins, who grew up in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia, put their money where their beliefs are. Dr. Wardlaw has an outpatient practice for Temple Physicians of Nicetown in North Philadelphia, and Dr. McDonald has worked at two outpatient clinics for 15 years, Memphis Street Pediatrics in Port Richmond and Pizzica Pediatrics in Kensington.

“Our maternal grandmother died of breast cancer at the age of 53,” said Dr. Wardlaw. “She did not have access to quality health care. As a result, she lost out on 30 extra years of life. That is what motivated me to pursue a career in medicine.”

Both twins were always driven to be overachievers. They both graduated from Central High School in 1992 (in the 251st graduating class); they both graduated from Temple University with honors as biology majors, and they both graduated from Penn State Medical School. Dr. Wardlaw later became the chief resident at Montgomery Hospital in Norristown (now Norristown Einstein), and is now a family medicine specialist, while Dr. McDonald did her internship and residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, becoming a pediatrician.

After their residencies, Dr. McDonald worked for a private practice on the Main Line, but she lasted there less than a year. “I quickly realized that I could help the underserved community best by being in the city,” she explained. And after her residency, Dr. Wardlaw worked at a practice in Mt. Airy for five years before moving to Temple Physicians of Nicetown.

“In our offices I determine if a Covid-19 test is needed and tell them how to get it,” said Dr. Wardlaw. “I’ve had patients test positive, and some had to be hospitalized, but all recovered. Access to primary care doctors on a regular basis is lacking in the inner city. One issue is mistrust of the medical establishment.”

“There are many reasons for this,” added Dr. McDonald, who has also had patients with positive Covid-19 tests who have recovered. “For example, there were the Tuskegee experiments. (399 impoverished black sharecroppers in Alabama from 1932 to 1972 in a U.S. Public Health Service study were not told they had syphilis, which killed many of them. They were told they would receive free treatment for their symptoms, but they never received treatment, only placebos.) We need to remove implicit bias, which has huge implications. We must make sure everyone has access to tests. And it’s hard to isolate when you have several generations of family members in the same house.”

On the issue of pandemic leadership in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania by those in charge of making decisions, both doctors had high praise for public health and political officials. “Governor Wolf deserves a lot of credit for his leadership,” said Dr. Wardlaw, “and Philly authorities have done a pretty good job of putting rules and regulations in place to help us mitigate the disease.”

Drs. Wardlaw and McDonald say they represent the “Three T’s — trusted messengers, translators of words into action to make patients advocates for their own health care and bringing about transformative outcomes.”

Dr. Wardlaw is also the current Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians 2020 Family Physician of the Year. Her patients and colleagues supported her nomination for the honor, with dozens attesting to her exceptional care for her patients and for coming back to serve their community.

For more information, Google twinsisterdocs, and their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts will come up. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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