1. Can you please describe your ethnic background and/or family origin?
Dr. Allen Toles: My ethnic background is African American.
Dr. Janna Andrews: I am African American and my family originates from Alabama and Georgia (and I am very proud of my southern roots). My family moved to Queens when my mother was a child but as many of them get older they all eventually return home to the south.
Zacharie Saintyl: I am originally from Haiti. My family came to this country in hopes for a better future. My parents always told us about the United States being the land of opportunity. They always have high hopes that my siblings and I would become important figures in society through a good education, and their hope was realized when my siblings and I became the first generation in our family to graduate high school and to graduate college. Thanks to my parents, today we each are able to live our dreams.
2. When did you know that you wanted to be a healthcare professional?
Dr. Allen Toles: I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be in healthcare having been exposed to it, essentially, from birth, and because my mother is a pediatrician who trained at Harlem Hospital and serviced the Greater Jamaica Queens community for more than 40 years. So, it was a natural transition for me as I advanced through my undergraduate and ultimately Medical School years.
Dr. Janna Andrews: I knew I wanted to be a doctor ever since I was five. My goal was first to go to the Olympics in Gymnastics then spend the rest of my career as a physician. After I hit a serious growth spurt at 16 my Olympic aspirations were put aside. I wasn’t anywhere near Olympic quality but I do appreciate that gymnastics taught me how to compete. I should also say that I was fortunate to grow up watching the Cosby show where I got to see very positive images of black professionals that convinced me that becoming a physician was something I could achieve. After gymnastics I then began to focus on what I needed to do to go to medical school and I looked at the journey as just training for another competition. I always had a very deep interest in healing whether it was mentally or physically and what that entailed.
Zacharie Saintyl: It had always been my passion since I was a little boy growing up in Haiti to help others. I was always involved in community service at church and I would always visit the sick at hospitals, brought them food and prayed with them. When I came to the United States I was presented with an abundance of opportunities and education that helped my passion become a reality. As I grew older I became more passionate about working in the medical field as I watched my family members, especially my mother, struggle with sickness. I wanted to be in a position where I can provide professional health to them and that’s when I found my passion in Nursing. I started as a nursing assistant at Northwell Health and after finishing my studies, I continued to set higher goals for myself. I took advantage of every opportunity that was presented to me and I am now a Nurse Manager at LIJ Valley Stream.
3. What’s the best part of being a leader here at Northwell Health?
Dr. Allen Toles: The best part of being a leader here at Northwell, is that I have the opportunity every day of breaking down barriers and stereotypes, and being a role model for other employees and my community.
Dr. Janna Andrews: The best part of being a leader at Northwell is having a platform to make a difference. I’ve been extremely fortunate to sit down with some great mentors that have really opened my eyes to the opportunities that exist at Northwell, but also to the impact that I can potentially have. I feel like it is my job to pass this information and these opportunities along. I’m currently serving as a co-chair for the BERG (Business Employee Resource Group) that focuses on employees of African American and Caribbean descent. We are just getting started, but collectively we are committed to ensuring that these employees are aware of opportunities that exist for themselves or their families at Northwell. We are also committed to hosting health initiatives that will have a positive and lasting impact on the communities of color in the surrounding areas.
Zacharie Saintyl: The best part of being a leader at Northwell Health is being able to contribute to the Northwell mission. I am grateful to be a member of a great health system that invests in its mission and vision to improve and promote healthcare across diverse communities. I am truly honored to have this platform to be inspired and I am fortunate to be surrounded by great leaders that I can learn from. I’m presently a member of one of our BERG’s serving as a co-chair. We work to enhance communication and patient experience while serving the diverse communities within our health system.
4. What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month?”
Dr. Janna Andrews: When I think about Black History Month, I very much think about those that came before me and created this space and opportunity for me. I am very aware that I stand on their shoulders and I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to achieve and overcome. There is more work to be done and that is ok. I live my life through the affirmation- to whom much is given, much is expected, and I am happy to carry the baton until it is my turn to pass it. For now, I will roll up my sleeves and ask how I can be of service.
Zacharie Saintyl: When I think of Black History I think of the time that we celebrate all the accomplishments and the accolades of black people worldwide. The first black president of the United States was in my lifetime. That is an amazing feeling to experience. This accomplishment and others inspire me to also become a great role model, not only to my children, but also to those who look up to me. Knowing about the great achievements of black people through history motivates me to never give up. I become more confident in knowing that I too can accomplish great things such as the people who came before me and created this opportunity for me.
5. Is there a specific leader from history that inspires you? What about a figure from today?
Dr. Allen Toles: It may sound cliché, but Martin Luther King, continues to inspire me, because I was well aware of his presence and actions during my adolescence and was able to witness firsthand, the cataclysmic change that he brought about in American Society. In this 21st century, I have been inspired by many people, but I think for most people of color, Barack Obama has inspired a new generation of believers, that with hard work and determination, all things are possible.
Dr. Janna Andrews: Harry Belafonte inspires me. His legacy as a social activist and devotion to the ongoing fight for our civil rights is tremendous. Harry Belafonte has passed the baton from his mentor Paul Robeson and I have so much respect for someone that recognizes and uses their platform for social good. Mr. Belafonte has shown up, he has written checks, and he has stayed politically engaged his entire life. He has been passionate and outspoken as a humanitarian and I can only hope to accomplish a sliver of what he has but he certainly gave those of us that follow in his footsteps a foundation to stand on. I think ultimately Mr. Belafonte will pass the baton to the actor/social activist Jesse Williams. Already an established social activist in his right, I can’t wait to see what Williams is able to accomplish.
Zacharie Saintyl: Barack Obama is my inspiration. When faced with adversaries and tribulations, he was never shaken – he was a man of character. He has received unprecedented opposition and disrespect, yet he dealt with them peacefully and gracefully. As a father and a husband, he inspires me to be a great leader – to lead with positivity, and to never give up when facing adversary.
6. Why, more than ever, do we need to reignite humanism in healthcare?
Dr. Allen Toles: There is a tectonic shift that is happening ethnically and culturally in this world and right here within our own communities, and as health care providers we need to be exquisitely sensitive to this shift. We are no longer a homogenous population; we are a “melting pot” of such diversity now, with the breaking down of bias, stereotypes, and ignorance. People are in relation with one another, and as a result, families are now multicultural, multiracial, bringing forth more heterogeneity than ever. To this end “Humanism” has to be primary when delivering healthcare, so that one can understand the whole person – what makes them who they are, and therefore, have a better insight, into their health challenge, and develop the best approach to heal their body, mind, and spirit.