Alumni Q&A: Maude Lofton, M.D. ’79, and Renee Blanding, M.D. ’88
Maude Lofton, M.D. ’79, and Renee Blanding, M.D. ’88, reflect on their careers and their time at the UF College of Medicine in honor of Black History Month.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?
I guess you might say I was an “accidental physician.” I went to college to pursue a profession in education, as a biology teacher. Along the way, I discovered medical technology. Later, when I was pursuing a graduate degree, my work experience made me suited for a career in medicine. It was fortuitous that it occurred at a time when the University of Florida was seeking to increase the number of minority students and women in its College of Medicine.
Can you share any fond memories from your time at the UF College of Medicine?
My fondest memories were of working with the Office of Minority Affairs and Willie J. Sanders: reviewing applications of minority students much like myself; participating in the “summer workshop”; and providing guidance to students like myself to ensure they would succeed if accepted to the College of Medicine.
To you, what does it mean to be a Gator doc?
When I graduated from high school in 1962, the University of Florida was not a welcoming place for African-Americans. The Duval County school system had been denied accreditation because of the discrepancy in the spending on white and “colored” schools in Jacksonville. As a result, the entirety of the Duval County school was discredited. Even though I was eligible to attend the University of Florida, my family decided that Spelman College in Atlanta was where I should go. I enrolled in Spelman majoring in biology with the intention of becoming a teacher.
It was the height of the civil rights era and a very exciting time to be in Atlanta, which was completely segregated at the time. A movie date meant you were consigned to the balcony of the Rialto Theater; the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed and everyone was in love with Stokely Carmichael; sit-ins and demonstrations were the order of the day; Julian Bond was running for the Georgia legislature and Dr. Martin Luther King was a frequent speaker in the city.
Disenchanted with the idea of teaching, I was introduced to the field of medical technology during my junior year [at Spelman College]. After graduation, I completed a one-year internship at Duval Medical Center (DMC), and was the first African-American to become a medical technologist in Jacksonville, Florida. [Lofton worked as a medical technologist for eight years before attending the UF College of Medicine]. DMC would later become University Hospital, the urban campus of the University of Florida and where I would complete my pediatric training — including a stint as chief resident of pediatrics and subsequently joining the faculty of the University of Florida College of Medicine.
University Hospital subsequently formalized its relationship with the University of Florida to become Shands Jacksonville, and the rest is history. Even though I am now retired, being a Gator doc means my path has followed a “path of Designed Design.” I have been on the faculty of the University of Florida, Howard University, the University of Alabama and the University of Louisville. It is a testament to “change” and the commitment that the university has made to creating an environment conducive to ensuring all of its enrollees achieved success.
Renee Blanding, M.D. ’88
Vice president of medical affairs at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center; assistant professor of anesthesiology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?
I broke my arm after falling from my grandmother’s porch bannister, and a trip to the doctor at the age of 5 sealed my fate and influenced me to become a physician. The physician, whose name I cannot recall, was amazingly kind and compassionate; he spoke to me directly and communicated his plan to me as he reduced the fracture and cast my arm. He told me what to expect and when I would feel pain; I also remember him telling me how brave I was and how proud he was of me.
Even when I got my cast removed, he teased me because he knew my arm would feel lighter but cautioned me to careful and not reinjure it because it felt so light. Based on those interactions, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I cannot even recall how he looked, but I truly remember how well he treated me.
A few years ago when I tried to think of how he looked, I was stunned to realize that this physician was white and practiced in the Deep South; I was impressed that he treated African-American patients in the 1960s. He could have very easily done what was socially acceptable for those times, and I have often wondered if he himself encountered repercussions because of his choices. It also made me realize that we as African-Americans have had some incredibly helpful partners in our struggle to gain equality, and I personally am deeply grateful for his impact on my life and community.
I often wish he were still alive* so that I could express my respect and gratitude to him, but I have decided the best way to honor him is to treat my patients with the same dignity he showed to me. I have also decided that I will search the records in South Carolina to discover his name so that I can more accurately pay tribute to one of my very first role models.
*UPDATE: Dr. Blanding searched through South Carolina records and was able to get in touch with the pediatrician referenced in her story. She plans to reunite with her childhood role model during her next visit to her hometown.