By Janet Alsas | Photo by John Michael Simpson
Dr. Dana Iglesias has practiced medicine around the world, but her internal compass drew her back to Chatham. Dana’s personal mission to provide underserved populations with equitable medical care led her to places like Costa Rica, California and Nigeria then Chatham, where she achieved one of her proudest moments: She was named director of the Chatham Hospital Maternity Care Center in 2020.
Dana works with Chatham Hospital – one of three hospitals in the country awarded the 2020 Carolyn Boone Lewis Equity of Care Award for its efforts toward health equity – to change the way mothers in the Chatham community experience childbirth by providing patient-centered labor care.
Eight rural maternity care units have closed in North Carolina in the last three years alone, says UNC Health’s Communications Manager Katie Nash. The number of maternity care centers continues to decline across the country.
When the maternity care center opened last September, it was “a big deal for women of color, for women who are poor and the women of Chatham County,” Dana says, adding that the center hopes to deliver at least 115 babies in the first year, and eventually 350 babies annually.
“We’re the only high-income, developed country that actually has worsening maternal mortality … and when it comes to women of color, especially Black women, their mortality is three or four times as high as others,” Dana says.
Born in one of the nation’s most diverse areas – Queens, New York – and raised by bilingual parents from Panama, Dana understands the importance of breaking language and cultural barriers. She works to create a diverse medical staff of bilingual midwives and doctors who will help meet the needs of the Black and Spanish-speaking women in the community.
“I very much believe in what I’m doing,” Dana says. “I believe in maternity care, that it can be equitable to patients, making sure that it’s accessible and that we’re treating patients the way they should be. ”
Another reason Dana is attracted to this community is because Chatham and Chapel Hill allow doctors to have a full-spectrum practice and are able to take care of women in labor, adults and children, and people in need of end of life care.
Dividing her time between UNC’s Department of Family Medicine and the maternity care center means that each day of the week looks different for Dana. It’s a balancing act to juggle meetings on Mondays, teach medical students on Tuesdays, organize staff and policies on Wednesdays and go back to practicing medicine by Thursday or Friday, but “the biggest thing that makes it worth it is to know that I’m making a difference in someone’s life by seeing them in a clinic, which is hugely rewarding to me,” Dana says. “But it’s even more rewarding to influence others, whether it’s teaching doctors or residents in training, being a role model to others or being able to influence the system [administratively] for important change.”
Dana’s passion doesn’t come as a surprise to her close friends, especially Monika Trogdon, a nurse practitioner who says Dana is always looking for ways to help others.
“She’s bighearted, compassionate and strong-willed,” says Monika, who met and befriended Dana at Refuge Home Church 13 years ago. “She exudes strength and has a center of calm and steadiness that I’m sure helps patients as well.”
Dana knew she wanted to be a doctor in the first grade. Her advice to aspiring medical professionals is to “work hard at the things you do, do the things you love and remember those two things may not be the same.”