‘Hurricane Gator’ walks path of service
By Christine Boatwright
Alison Clarke DeSouza, M.D. ’79, has a goal to earn her spot with the 50 States Half Marathon Club. She has fast-walked in 10 half marathons and has 40 more states to visit to achieve the honor. When her neighbor heard about the goal, she gave DeSouza a wooden map of the United States to hang in her South Florida living room. DeSouza hangs her medals on each state she has visited.
“The map is in my family room and is looking very skimpy right now,” DeSouza said with a laugh. “I’m hoping that by next year it’ll be nice and full. I’m feeling the challenge, so it’s going to happen.”
When not walking very fast, DeSouza cares for her patients through her private obstetrics and gynecology practice. And with the support of UF College of Medicine, she stays in touch with her former College of Medicine classmates, reconnecting every year at the National Medical Association’s annual clinical meeting. Soon after being accepted to the UF College of Medicine, the office of minority relations helped DeSouza find a new family among her fellow minority medical students.
“We did everything together, including study groups, football games, picnics, parties, movie outings, etc. All of us are still in contact now through that relationship we developed at the University of Florida,” DeSouza said. “It’s totally different now than when we were there. In the ’70s, we needed that bond. Today’s students are more independent and do not seem to need that comradery. However, we supported each other, which helped us cope with the demanding requirements of medical school.”
DeSouza became a “Hurricane Gator” after she completed her internship and residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami. She then joined the Broward General Medical Center staff as an obstetric-gynecologic hospitalist. For three years, she worked to serve the medical center’s unassigned and underserved patients before mentoring family medicine residents at the Naval Training Center Orlando, which is now closed. Later, she decided to go into private practice.
She began her solo obstetrics and gynecology practice in 1991 in Coral Springs, Florida, and had her daughter soon after. Her husband, Julian, is her office’s administrator.
DeSouza credits her medical school success in part to Willie J. Sanders, a UF associate professor of anatomy and cell biology who passed away in 2010. Sanders was the first African-American faculty member at the UF College of Medicine, and during DeSouza’s first year, he took time one night every week to drill the students to make sure they understood anatomy for class.
“Without him, I don’t know if I could’ve made it through medical school,” DeSouza said. “There was a time when I was saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this; the work is too much.’ He gave me that extra push. You always doubt yourself, but he was always there to say, ‘I’m going to be there for you, and ‘no’ is not an option; you’re going to do it.’”
DeSouza’s second mentor was the beloved late Hugh M. “Smiley” Hill, M.D., associate dean for student and alumni affairs.
“He was the reason so many people in my year specialized in obstetrics and gynecology because he made it so fun and interesting,” DeSouza said. “He was so bubbly. Even now, I can hear his voice saying, ‘Make it simple, make it simple.’ You never saw him upset, and he always had a smile on his face.”
With medical school and a successful private practice under her belt, DeSouza keeps pushing to reach one more goal — that 50th fast-walking medal — which would put a smile on her face.