Changing the Face of Medicine Honoree: Yvonnecris Veal, M.D.
“Since I first remembered anything I said, probably age 2 or 3, my answer to any question related to what I wanted to be when I grew up was ‘a doctor.’ That never wavered or changed. Since I didn’t really know any, nor seldom saw any doctors, I never really understood why as a child that was my dream—no, my reality. Later as a teenager, I realized how much I admired my grandmother because everyone seemed to ask for her when they were sick, hurt, or feeling bad. Only after she died did I learn that my grandmother was a certified licensed practical nurse. Maybe grandmother planted the word ‘doctor’ in my head.”
In 1895 the National Medical Association was founded to advocate for African American physicians and their patients. In 1989 Dr. Yvonnecris Smith Veal became the first woman to chair the association’s Board of Trustees.
In 1995, while senior medical director for the U.S. Postal Service New York metropolitan area, Dr. Veal was named the 95th president of the National Medical Association. Only the fourth woman to serve as its president, Dr. Veal became a spokesperson for more than 25,000 African American physicians.
Yvonnecris Smith earned her bachelor’s degree at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1957, graduating magna cum laude. In the early 1960s, when Dr. Veal attended medical school, only about half of the universities in the southern United States accepted African American students. She was the fifth African American student enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.
In the 1970s, Dr. Veal expanded her pediatric work into a general practice and later took on a number of administrative roles. In 1975 she was named director of medical affairs at the East New York Neighborhood Family Care Center. Later she served as medical director of the Carter Community Health Center. In 1984 Dr. Veal began work as a contract physician with the U.S. Postal Service. Finding her niche in occupational medicine, she was soon promoted to field division medical officer.
Dr. Veal is responsible for the occupational health and safety of over 80,000 U.S. Postal Service employees in the New York area. Named senior medical director in 1993, Dr. Veal has noticed that the scope of her work has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, whole new levels of security and safety have been added to her responsibilities. “The Postal Service is really a small cosmos of the larger world. Now all of our society has this extremely heightened sense of awareness and must take precautions.” In October 2001, two of Dr. Veal’s facilities were closed due to threats and exposure to anthrax. “Hour by hour we were reevaluating and making changes in what should be done medically. And still today, we are running respiratory studies and continuously testing and checking employees.” In a tribute to her leadership Dr. Veal received the U.S. Postal Service National Medical Directors Award in 1997 and 2002.
Read Dr. Veal's profile on the Changing the Face of Medicine website.