Barbara Lewis, PA-C
Barbara Lewis, PA-C, is a trailblazer.
After graduating from college with a history degree, Barbara Lewis traveled to Berkeley, California and became interested in women’s health through the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective during the time of the growth of feminism and the publication of “Our Bodies Ourselves.” When she returned to Washington, DC, Lewis was hired as an administrator at The Washington Free Clinic. There she created a women’s health night — the goal of which was to empower women to take charge of their health. Inspired by the women’s clinic, gay men started their own VD clinic, and this eventually became Whitman-Walker Health.
At the time, healthcare laws were loose or nonexistent, and the physicians she worked with taught her how to do pelvic exams. “Back then, if the physician delegated it, you could do it,” says Lewis. This was also when she learned about the new “PA profession.” Though she was an unconventional applicant, she was accepted and graduated from the PA program at Howard University.
She stayed at Howard and worked in emergency medicine for 12 years as a Certified PA. During that period, Lewis also co-founded a weekly lesbian health night at the request of the new Whitman-Walker Clinic.
Then when the AIDs epidemic hit in the 1980s, she went to work at George Washington University AIDS Clinical Trials Unit, when AZT was the only drug available. She was given the first studies for the investigational drug, DDI, at a time when patients were clamoring to get access to this new medication. She stayed there for 10 years, through the advent of triple combination therapy and major advances in the treatment of HIV. During that time, she was still volunteering at Whitman-Walker, in lesbian/women’s health and in HIV care.
In 2000, Lewis returned to her roots, going back to work at Whitman-Walker full-time. Today the full-service health center has 250 employees, and while it serves a diverse population of people from all over the city, it specializes in LGBTQ care. “I am one of the oldest people there, and I have been involved the longest,” she says.
As transgender care has emerged as a need, Lewis has become a specialist in that area as well. “What sets the care for all of these communities apart is that you have be culturally competent,” says Lewis. “You have to understand medicine, but you also have to understand the language and the patient’s need for care in a safe and comfortable environment.”
Says Megan Coleman, FNP, “Barbara provides a safe space for many people who have been abused or bullied their entire life. She allows them the opportunity to be themselves and to achieve their true self.”
Pioneer…Tireless Advocate… Inspiring Mentor…Fearless Leader… Amazing Preceptor.
These are some of the words nominees used to explain what sets Barbara Lewis apart in a career spanning women’s health, HIV research, primary care, emergency medicine, transgender health and HIV management.
“Since the 1970s, Barbara has been on the forefront of developing care for marginalized groups -- patients who couldn’t afford care and those experiencing discrimination from other healthcare providers, family members and government policies,” says Alice Eggleston, PA-C. “As a fellow PA-C, I admire her commitment to her patients, her eagerness to break down barriers, and advocacy for her LGBT and HIV positive patients encountering multiple obstacles. She is a fearless leader in transgender care, and I, along with many of my colleagues, often seek her advice…”
Lewis notes that she has patients that have followed her for 16 years, and two that were in clinical trials with her in the 1990s.
“I feel lucky that I have had this career,” she adds. “I could retire, but I love where I work, I love my patients and I enjoy working with them on positive steps in their own healthcare journey.”