ChrisAnna Mink, MD ‘83
Published: October 2019
ChrisAnna Mink’s path to the University of Virginia came about rather unexpectedly. Growing up in Ohio, Mink attended The Ohio State University for her pre-med undergraduate studies. While there, her best friend and roommate traveled to Charlottesville to interview for an internship at Monticello and suggested that Mink come along and take a look at UVA. She did, and she liked it so much that she decided to apply to the School of Medicine.
Mink realized that it might be harder for her to get accepted at UVA because she was an out-of-state student. She recalls pre-med classmates, however, saying that they thought it would be easy for her to get into medical school because she was a black female, an opinion she describes now as “discrediting.”
Nonetheless, her application was accepted at UVA and she matriculated in 1979, graduating in 1983. Her mentor was Leigh Grossman, MD, a professor of pediatric infectious disease. Mink would ultimately choose that specialty as well. She completed her residency at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., followed by a fellowship at UCLA Medical Center. She later signed on as a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
“Harbor-UCLA is a Los Angeles County safety net hospital, so I was working with the underserved and taking care of a lot of kids without insurance and pretty much anyone who was disenfranchised,” she says. “One of my duties there was directing the foster care clinic to try to improve their access to healthcare and make it more consistent.”
It was during that time that Mink started taking a harder look at changes that could be made to improve healthcare outside of her role as a physician. “We were having a hard time getting consent for HIV testing for newborns of drug-abusing moms. The kids were kind of in limbo as far as who had responsibility for their wellbeing,” she recalls. “I became the spokesperson for trying to change the laws to make it easier to test the babies and testified before the California legislature. I started doing a lot of writing and advocacy work. I realized there might be more power in the pen than the syringe.”
Mink made the decision to go back to school to improve her writing beyond that of a self-described “science geek.” In 2014, she enrolled in the Masters of Specialized Journalism at the University of Southern California with a focus on science and health writing. “I left full-time medicine in 2014 and had a blast being back in school again. There was no pressure like there was with pre-med or med school,” she says.
When she graduated from the program, finding a writing job proved to be difficult because of her limited experience. She continued to practice medicine part-time and started writing for California Health Report, a news site covering health and health policy throughout the state.
To gain more writing experience, Mink did a couple of internships, including one with Hollywood, Health & Society, a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that provides the entertainment industry with accurate information for health-related storylines. “I got to consult on Doc McStuffins, an animated television story for preschoolers on Disney. That was just crazy fun,” she says. “Those writers work really hard to make sure that the information that gets to preschoolers, even though they use some made up words, is plausible for kids to process.”
An internship with the Center for Health Journalism introduced her to Report for America, a project that tries to bolster local media operations by providing additional staff to cover community issues. She reviewed their job opportunities and quickly found one that suited her.
“There was a job posted for a child health reporter with The Modesto Bee because there are so many health issues in the Central Valley of California. Most people know the Central Valley as the farming area of the state, but even with such a huge agricultural base, there is a lot of child poverty and hunger,” she says. “So I applied, and I was fortunate that out of more than 900 applicants, I was chosen for one of 60 positions with Report for America.”
Her current assignment at The Modesto Bee will last a year or two, and Mink is already enjoying the change of pace from Los Angeles. “I’ve been here for three months. Everyone is really nice in the newsroom and the community. Modesto is like a big small town. I love LA and the ocean, but there are a lot more people here who are down-to-earth and looking out for their community,” she says.
Although she still calls LA home (her husband is on faculty at Harbor-UCLA), for now Mink is living in a small apartment in Modesto, furnished with many things passed on from her son, who recently graduated college. She jokes that she feels like she is going backwards. “When I was interviewing, they said, ‘You know, journalists don’t make the same kind of money as doctors.’ But I told them I’ve made a conscious choice. Of course, you don’t choose pediatric infectious disease for the big bucks and the glamour either,” she says, laughing.
Although writing is her current focus, Mink has not retired from medicine entirely. She is on voluntary status as a clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Harbor-UCLA. She still teaches as a member of the faculty on topics that include vaccine lectures.
And while it has been more than 35 years since she graduated from UVA, Mink still counts many of her fellow alumni as close friends. In 2018, she returned to Charlottesville to celebrate her 35th reunion with classmates.
She is also on the planning committee for the first-ever Black Medical Alumni Weekend at UVA, which will take place in Charlottesville in May 2020. She says that the event is a way to bring together black graduates of the School of Medicine, many of whom have not been back to UVA since graduating. “It was not easy being a kid of color in Charlottesville in the ‘80s. A lot of black graduates walk away relieved that we survived,” she says. “But I am really impressed with how much the university has done proactively to make things better and to reach out and improve the diversity of the student population and to treat patients with respect. So that’s why I want to help. I am happy I survived, too, but I am also proud to say that I am a UVA grad.”