Ramona Tascoe, MD ’79 : Leading from the heart
When Dr. Ramona Tascoe entered the USCF School of Medicine in 1973, she was already an activist.
As an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, she made her mark as a key player in the 1968 student strikes, which led to the establishment of the nation’s first and only College of Ethnic Studies. Her priority in becoming a physician: to better understand all the factors that contribute to poorer health and shorter lives for African Americans.
With a triple major in political science, sociology, and psychology – and minimal science education – Tascoe knew getting into UCSF might be an uphill battle. But after a couple of failed attempts, she impressed the UCSF admissions committee with her deep commitment to serving the most vulnerable populations – those with the worst health outcomes. She completed her medical degree in the top 25% of her class.
After graduation, a local East Bay hospital recruited Tascoe for residency in general surgery, which was a great achievement. She flourished in this next step in her career but also experienced something we hear about all too often today – sexual harassment. Tascoe stood up to the perpetrator, defying his threats of retaliatory conduct that included efforts to destroy her career. In federal court, a jury rendered a unanimous verdict in her favor.
“I felt it was a victory not just for me but for all women,” says Tascoe, who changed her career track to primary care. “I turned lemons into lemonade.”
As an internal medicine doctor, Tascoe found her niche locally as well as internationally. She has served as a first responder in regions around the world after natural and manmade disasters: Kenya and Tanzania following the US embassy bombings in 1998; Sri Lanka after the devastating tsunami in 2005; New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and Haiti, where she remained for more than three years assisting the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince with its long-term recovery in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
Since 2000, Tascoe has traveled frequently to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, helping locals with projects including building hospitals, medical schools, and transportation for ambulatory medicine. At home in the Bay Area, Tascoe specializes in addiction medicine as a program physician and medical director.
She recognizes that all the challenges she encountered early in her career helped prepare her for the role she has ultimately embraced: an empathetic doctor focused on the health and struggle of diverse populations. True to her beginnings, she says she gravitates toward improving the lives of those who are negatively impacted by their race, ethnicity, gender, age, politics, or financial circumstances.
“I have witnessed enormous suffering,” she says. “But I’ve learned from my experiences to lead with compassion and conviction.”
Dr. Tascoe took home a 2019 UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Compassionate" category. This award honors those whose work is marked by boundless empathy, understanding, and caring within health care or science.