Her ancestors were medicine people. She’s becoming a doctor.

Alexis Norwood's Afro-Indigenous roots are inspiring her to address medical inequities

By Pamela Gorsuch on November 7, 2023

Alexis Norwood
Alexis Norwood has aspired to join the medical field since age 5. (Lauren Castellana | Towson University)

“When you have a healing energy, people come out of the woodwork,” laughs Alexis Norwood ‘26. The sophomore biology major has an empathetic demeanor that draws people in, compelling friends and acquaintances to share their deepest thoughts and fears. This natural inclination has compelled her toward a medical career since age 5. So when Norwood—who has Afro-Indigenous heritage—learned her ancestors were apothecaries, it all made sense. Below, she shares the ways her heritage has shaped her, the impact she wants to make in the medical field and the bucket list trip her grandmother inspired.

alexis with grandmother
Norwood's grandmother taught her to treat all living things with respect. (Photo submitted by Alexis Norwood)

On family roots:

My dad is Dominican, and my mom and grandmother—who I grew up with—are Indigenous. My grandmother grew up on the Haliwa-Saponi reservation in Hollister, North Carolina. She taught me to treat all living things with respect—from people we meet to crickets we’d find in the house. It informs my interactions with people to this day.

On the reassuring power of science:

Science has always been my strong suit. The world is so complex, so breaking things down to a cellular level to understand the root of how they work is satisfying. Right now I’m taking a genetics class—Bio 309—with professor Brian Masters. It’s fascinating to see how the field is constantly changing based on new discoveries. The curriculum forces you out of your comfort zone, but he also has the whole class cracking up.   

On her inspiration for pursuing medicine:

The medical outcome disparities for people of color are staggering. Disease symptoms can present differently for people of different races and genders, and when symptoms are generalized, it can make diagnoses harder for people of color. I want to be part of the change to look at patients holistically and use that to improve care.

On bonding through shared stress:

Being Afro-Indigenous can feel like straddling two separate worlds. People want to generalize, and you don’t fit in a box for them. I’m grateful for the friendships I found living in the STEM Scholars Community. Even though we all came from different experiences, living together while going through the same coursework helped us relate to each other. Being stressed at the same time makes for bonding moments!

Alexis at the pottery wheel
Norwood uses art, including pottery, to balance her coursework as a biology major. (Photo submitted by Alexis Norwood)

On relaxing as a pre-med major:

I love art. It gets my mind out of the stress of science. Even though my art requirements are filled, I’m taking a ceramics class this semester, and it’s great. If you’re nice to clay, it will be nice to you. I lose track of time in that room.

On bucket list travel:

There’s this huge powwow every year in New Mexico called the Gathering of Nations. People from hundreds of tribes attend for music, food and more, and I would love to be among them someday. The powwows I go to in North Carolina are such connecting experiences. We gather as a community to dance, pay homage to our culture and eat incredible food. I’d invite everyone to experience it some time. All are welcome!


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