Last Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Pediatrician Elana McDonald, MD, FAAP, is the owner and chief medical officer of three Philadelphia-based practices: Memphis Street Pediatrics, Pizzica Pediatrics, and Castor Pediatrics. She is the recipient of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Everyday Hero Award for September 2020.
When it comes to establishing relationships with her patients and her community, Dr. McDonald is a firm believer in what she calls the “Three Ts.”
She serves as the Trusted messenger on health issues to help patients Translate those messages into action and become advocates for their health. Ultimately, that approach can lead to Transformational outcomes.
“If individuals don’t trust the messenger, they won’t trust the message,” she says.
She points to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study as one example of why there continues to be distrust of the medical establishment. That study, conducted by the U.S. government from 1932-1972, enrolled African-American sharecroppers from Alabama, deceiving participants by telling them that they were receiving free health care. Many of the men were given placebos in place of effective treatment for syphilis and were not informed of their true diagnosis.
Dr. McDonald and her identical twin sister Delana Wardlaw, MD, a Philadelphia-based family physician with Temple Physicians at Nicetown, have joined forces to serve as those trusted messengers for underserved communities in Philadelphia. Together, they are known as “Twin Sister Docs.”
While Drs. McDonald and Wardlaw have gained increased national and local media attention with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been health care advocates for years. They participate in community events, including health fairs, to help empower communities that have been affected by health care disparities, racism, and implicit bias.
The Twin Sister Docs make frequent appearances on television and radio broadcasts and share their message via social media. Throughout the pandemic, they have provided the latest information about the coronavirus and have volunteered with free COVID-19 testing events in Philadelphia.
Dr. McDonald carries her message of the three Ts to her daily practice as a pediatrician. She has been providing care to underserved communities in Philadelphia for more than 20 years. Five years ago, she took advantage of an opportunity to take on a leadership and business role by purchasing her practice. She is now the owner and chief medical officer for three pediatric practices in the city.
She credits mentors with helping pave her path as a physician. While still an undergraduate at Temple University, she completed an internship with a pharmaceutical company that enabled her to work with eight African-American physicians in different specialties.
“That opportunity was priceless,” she says of the internship. “It made me realize my dream was attainable.”
As she embarked on a career in medicine, Dr. McDonald had the full support of her twin sister Dr. Wardlaw and her entire family. “Once we decided we were going to do medicine, we were partners throughout,” Dr. McDonald says. “My sister knew exactly what I was going through.”
After graduating from Penn State College of Medicine, Dr. McDonald completed a pediatric residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. She knew that she wanted to work with children, so pediatrics was an easy choice. “Children keep you honest, they keep you going, and they always make you laugh,” she says.
Dr. McDonald spent her first year, as an attending physician, at a practice on the suburban Main Line. She quickly realized, however, that it was not where her services were needed most. She soon joined a practice in the city of Philadelphia, where she continues to be a dedicated, passionate advocate for her patients.
“I have a chance to have an impact on my patients from birth to age 21,” she says. She is proud that her chosen profession enables her to make an impact not only on the lives of children but also on entire families.
“We’re teaching the parents,” says Dr. McDonald. She shares information about nutrition, physical activity, oral hygiene, vaccines, safety and helps families learn to build a foundation for their child’s healthy lifestyle. One of her most important roles as a physician is to pick up on small medical issues before they become bigger problems.
In response to COVID-19, during visits, she talks with her patients, and their parents, to see how they are adjusting to the new realities of life during the pandemic. Dr. McDonald also serves as a medical advisor to local schools. She makes sure to keep a close eye on the latest research and data about the pandemic.
Where COVID-19 is concerned, she says, it is important to remember that the medical community does not yet have all the answers. We are learning something new every day.
Dr. McDonald is married and has two boys, ages 13 and 16. Being a mother herself has helped her to connect with the families she sees. “My sons and husband are my priority, they keep me focused and balanced,” she says. “Being a mom has helped me be a better doctor.”
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She’s also proud to be a role model for her patients and to serve as a mentor for both children and young adults who are considering a career in medicine. For middle school and high school students, Dr. McDonald’s advice is simple – Be the best student you can possibly be.
For high school and college students, she advises looking beyond just good grades and extracurricular activities. Start looking into internships and getting real-world experience, she tells them. “You could be the smartest person in the world, but you also have to be able to connect with people.”
Dr. McDonald prides herself on making those personal connections with her patients. Some of the most gratifying experiences of her professional life are when former patients bring their own children to see her.
“I’m on my second generation,” she notes with a laugh. “Patients I saw when they were ten are now bringing their own children to see me.”
“I know that I am making a difference in their lives,” says Dr. McDonald. Through her community advocacy and the care and attention she offers to patients, Dr. McDonald is setting an example that will resonate for generations to come.
“Representation is important,” says Dr. McDonald. “It is important for young girls and boys to see doctors that look like them.”
Learn more about Twin Sister Docs on social media by visiting their social media accounts @Twinsisterdocs on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.