career outcomes
January 5, 2021

Carey alum breaks glass ceiling as chief medical officer, executive VP at Children’s Hospital

Why it matters:

Dr. Denice Cora-Bramble’s (MBA ‘03) career was an uphill battle. As a woman of color, she often had to work twice as hard to reach the top — ultimately being named chief medical officer at Children’s National Hospital. She credits Johns Hopkins for giving her the confidence to walk into boardrooms and lead.

Dr. Denice Cora-Bramble’s (MBA ‘03) career is punctuated by accomplishment after accomplishment — from being named chief medical officer, chief diversity officer, and executive vice president at Children’s National Hospital to recognition as one of Washington’s “Most Powerful Women” by Washingtonian magazine.

Despite her many accomplishments, Cora-Bramble’s ascent at Children’s National wasn’t a sure thing. She is one of only two full-time African-American professors in the hospital system, out of approximately 975 faculty members with academic appointments. And she is the first woman and minority member to serve as a chief medical officer.

Each time she was up for a promotion, she says, she had to work doubly hard to prove herself and demonstrate her achievements. And the obstacles didn’t end once she earned the title.

Children’s has two chief medical officers. One is a white male. The other is Cora-Bramble — female, black, and Hispanic. She says the differences in the day-to-day experiences of her and her colleague are stark.

Cora-Bramble recalls one meeting with a group outside of the hospital where she entered the room before the other CMO. The attendees hardly bothered to look up at her when she entered. They stood to greet the male CMO when he entered. 

In another meeting, all the other doctors were addressed as “Doctor,” and she was addressed as “Denice.”

“There have been times when folks have overstepped their boundaries or made an insensitive comment at meetings, and I’ve had to call them out. You have to do that hard body of work while earning respect,” Cora-Bramble said.

“At times I walk into meetings where I am the only minority or the only woman or both. It used to throw me off balance. But the skillset and competencies I gained at Johns Hopkins gave me a high level of confidence to walk into those rooms and lead.”

Dr. Denice Cora Bramble (MBA 03), Chief Medical Officer, Executive VP at Children’s Hospital

Breaking the glass ceiling

Cora-Bramble’s career educating others on equitable practice began long before she became chief diversity officer. In the 1980s and 1990s, she was working in community pediatrics and saw first-hand how ill-equipped medical students were to treat children of other races and ethnicities.

Never one to wait for someone else to find a solution, Cora-Bramble says she began creating her own cultural competency training for the medical providers. Her training made an impact, and she was hired at George Washington University to lead the community health program for clinicians.

While working at George Washington, Cora-Bramble was selected as a Kellogg National Leadership Program fellow and spent three years traveling around the world to learn inclusive and robust leadership skills from global leaders. She also began to seek out more information on the business of health care.

“I kept asking questions about the business of the medical field and realized I needed to learn more,” she recalled.

She found her answers at the Johns Hopkins business school– first as a certificate recipient, then coming back to earn her MBA.

“I really went not knowing what to expect. I knew I had some skills to gain, but I did not know those four years [at Carey] would prepare me so well for a senior leadership position in health care,” Cora-Bramble said. “I found my professors deeply impactful. And I appreciated the fact that what I learned at Hopkins, I could go to work the next day and apply it. It wasn’t far-fetched or busywork, it was all relevant.”

She also credits her Johns Hopkins courses with giving her more confidence to lead.

“At times I walk into meetings where I am the only minority or the only woman or both. It used to throw me off balance. But the skillset and competencies I gained at Johns Hopkins gave me a high level of confidence to walk into those rooms and lead.”

Seminal research: Racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infections

While Cora-Bramble has made it to the top, she remains grounded in her commitment to under-resourced populations. In all of her roles as educator, researcher, clinician, advocate, and hospital administrator, she says, the same theme powers her: working on behalf of children and their families who need help most. This is never more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Cora-Bramble says she and her team were the first to publish an article on the racial and ethnic and socioeconomic disparities of infection rates of SARVS-CoV-2 in children. Cora-Bramble was the senior author and one of her many mentees, Dr. Monika Goyal, was the lead author.

Their article, “Racial and/or Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities of SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Children,” published in Pediatrics, shows that Hispanic children were 6.3 times more likely and Black children 2.3 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to white children. And children in the lowest income group were 2.4 times more likely than children in the highest income group to test positive. The article was selected as one of the best COVID-19 articles published this year in Pediatrics.

The seminal research was made possible because Children’s National launched one of the first testing centers for children and could quickly test 1,000 patients. This was at breakneck speed during a point in the pandemic when most states were struggling to supply high-volume testing.

What to Read Next

Cora-Bramble’s next chapter

With over 30 years of combined clinical work, research, teaching, and ultimately leading a hospital under her belt, Cora-Bramble says she is looking forward to her next chapter. She is planning a phased retirement as chief medical officer in 2021 so she can focus on her role as chief diversity officer and on her soon-to-be-four grandchildren.

She is also excited about having time to write a book and tell others her story; continue teaching mentoring; and leading the diversity, equity, and inclusion program at Children’s.

“My journey has been filled with challenges and barriers, from the time I started college at age 16 as a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican immigrant to my mountaintop CMO experience,” she said. “The leadership lessons learned as a trailblazer without a roadmap have instilled in me a deep sense of responsibility to mentor others who are not as far along in their journey. Seeing my mentees reach their own heights brings me immense joy and satisfaction.”

Her legacy is one of overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers against all odds. While she has enjoyed remarkable success, she acknowledges that many other talented women and women of color are too often overlooked.

But Cora-Bramble says she remains hopeful for the future.

“It’s sobering to see how divided America is,” she said. “There is certainly a lot of work to be done. But there is also a realization by some that we’re not where we need to be, and we need to do the work to get there.”

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