PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott was appointed to lead the Rhode Island Department of Health in 2015, she became the first woman of color to serve as the state’s top doctor.
Once the pandemic hit, she was thrust into the spotlight, becoming the face of public health in Rhode Island. Alexander-Scott played a pivotal role in helping the state navigate the COVID-19 crisis for two years until she stepped down from the role last month.
It didn’t take long for her to become a household name as she stood alongside then-Gov. Gina Raimondo to give daily updates.
During a one-on-one interview with 12 News last month, Alexander-Scott said from time to time she hears from parents who say their children look up to her.
While she’s been called an inspiration for her work, she said it’s the little things like that that inspire her.
“It’s an honor for me to know that there are young women and men, people of color, people of diverse backgrounds, who are watching and saying, ‘Wow, she’s there, that means it’s something I can do going into the future,” Alexander-Scott said. “I’m here to certainly cheer them on as well and say ‘absolutely,’ because every voice and every perspective matter and it will make a difference.”
A difference that Alexander-Scott said she hopes to continue making as a consultant for the Health Department until May.
She said an immediate goal for her is to keep encouraging Rhode Islanders to get vaccinated against COVID-19, adding that vaccine hesitancy is a topic heavily influenced by history in the Black community.
When asked about that, Alexander-Scott said she likes to frame it in terms of building confidence and ensuring people have access to the vaccine and other forms of care.
“Communities of color have a number of additional elements that are key to why we need to have this conversation,” she explained. “Communities of color are disproportionally impacted by COVID and many other conditions or illnesses, and it’s not because of anything specific to those communities.”
“It’s when you look at the living conditions, the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to why those conditions are more prevalent in those communities, that has to be taken into account when we are talking about access to important tools like the COVID-19 vaccine,” Alexander-Scott continued.
Health equity, according to Alexander-Scott, is something the R.I. Department of Health is dedicated to reaching. She said strong leaders can help make it happen, highlighting that people with different backgrounds can only make things better.
She said she often thinks of a phrase shared with her by a mentor: “Diversity brings strength, and having diverse perspectives, being able to get different takes on what’s needed – that strengthens us to have the most effective strategy.”
This Black History Month, Alexander-Scott wants young women of color to remember they can do anything they set their mind to.
“Set your goal for what you want to achieve and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise about your ability to accomplish it,” she said. “Everyone is here on Earth to make a difference and has a purpose, and I’m all for encouraging positive change.”
See more of the conversation with Dr. Alexander-Scott as part of our upcoming special, Honoring Black History: Mind Body Soul, this Friday at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Providence.