by Hannah Lemon // Spring 2011
For identical twins who grew up in an under-privileged area of Kansas City, Mo., earning acceptance into the UMKC School of Medicine was a life-changing event. It gave the sisters, Karan Baucom (M.D., ’75) and Sharon Baucom (M.D., ’75), the opportunity of a lifetime.
The sisters—known affectionately as “the twins” throughout their lives—graduated with honors from Central High School in Kansas City, Mo., in 1968. Although they were out-of-state and lacking financial resources, both women were accepted to the University of Kansas after an anonymous donor provided financial assistance. During their junior year, the twins were accepted into a mentoring program started by AT&T executives to provide jobs for inner-city students.
The Baucom sisters were called to the office of AT&T’s CEO who had recommended them for admittance into the new, innovative medical program at UMKC. The sisters had not finished their undergraduate degrees but had successfully completed all of the premedical courses. “There wasn’t an award or honor given that one could receive that we weren’t a part of during the three years we attended KU,” Sharon said.
The twins were accepted into the UMKC School of Medicine in 1971, two weeks before the new school’s first day of classes. The acceptance of two African-American women as the only minorities and the only third-year students attracted media attention from The Kansas City Star to The New York Times.
Even with all the attention, the twins developed strong, supportive relationships. E. Grey Dimond, M.D., founder of the school, was a source of encouragement, along with minority physicians in the Kansas City community. “When I think about our training and the barriers we experienced, I’m humbled by the lives we touched and the exceptional life lessons our mentors provided,” Sharon said.
Even though the twins didn’t have the same educational background as their fellow students, they excelled. “UMKC created a task force for us and others that included a study group to learn the basic sciences,” Karan said. “Clinically, when it came to taking part two of the boards, we scored in the 700s. That was unheard of. The fact that UMKC still has systems in place to help mold and develop minority students is appreciated.”
Not only were Karan and Sharon in attendance during the school’s very first classes, but they would also become the first African-American graduates of the School of Medicine. “There was an excitement graduating from UMKC at the time because you knew residency programs would be monitoring your performance against traditionally trained residents,” Karan said. The Baucoms were asked to join the staffs of their respective residency programs in family practice and obstetrics and gynecology at KU. “This was a compliment and acknowledgement that the UMKC system excels at educating physicians,” she said.
“It’s such a privilege to know that years ago, we were part of a vision that became a historic model.”
– Karan Baucom
As the School of Medicine celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2011, Sharon and Karan point out that the continuing efforts to remain on the cutting-edge of medical education and to consistently raise the bar have been distinct attributes of the School since the beginning. “UMKC invited us to share in the human condition and look at the patient’s life as a whole,” Karan said. “It had a magnificent curriculum because it introduced a living patient as your medical reference.”
After they completed residencies at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Sharon served as an assistant professor in the KU School of Medicine Department of Family Practice from 1979 to 1981. Karan headed to Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka, Kan., to join the practice group headed by Sen. Billy Roy and became the first female and first minority partner in obstetrics and gynecology.
Sharon joined her sister in 1981, where she helped establish a family practice group that represented the first interracial practice of its kind in Topeka. Karan worked as an assistant professor in the UMKC School of Medicine family medicine department teaching obstetrics and gynecology at Truman Medical Center East in Independence, Mo., and at the University of Kansas Medical Center where she taught as an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. In 2001, she created The Baucom Institute, where she practices anti-aging and rejuvenating medicine to improve the quality of her patients’ lives as they age.
Sharon accepted a position as statewide medical director with a private correctional company contracted to provide health care to state correctional facilities. She also was deputy director of health for the city of Richmond, Va., where she did post-graduate studies in public health. Since 2001, Sharon has served as director of clinical services for the state of Maryland’s 24,000 inmates. “I enjoy this job because it’s the closest opportunity for me to actually develop a public health preventive program,” Sharon said. “We make a difference in the health of inmates who are released back to their communities and linked to services.”
As the twins improve lives across the country, they say they’ve continued to support each other and remember to thank and give back to UMKC. “Thank God my sister and I had each other for support during that journey,” Karan said. “Sharon, besides being my idol, is so brilliant. But, you can point to so many other UMKC grads and say that. Most of all, it’s such a privilege to know that years ago, we were part of a vision that became a historic model.”
Learn about the 40th anniversary kickoff events at www.med.umkc.edu/40.