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Dr. Roselyn Payne Epps

Year of Birth / Death

1930 - 2014

Medical School

Howard University College of Medicine


District of Columbia

Career Path

Pediatric medicine
Dr. Roselyn Payne Epps


Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American local president of the American Medical Women's Association.
Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American and first woman to become president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American elected national president of the American Medical Women’s Association.
Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American woman president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia.


When I was 10 years old I decided I want to become a pediatrician. I was interested in a career that linked children, scientific inquiry, and helping others.


Roselyn Payne Epps spent her life and career as an advocate for women, minorities, and the underserved. Combining her skills as doctor and administrator, she was recognized for her foresight and leadership in medicine, pediatrics, maternal and child health, women's health, and public health. As the first African American local and national president of the American Medical Women's Association, she helped to establish the AMWA Foundation, to endow its women's health initiatives and to support research advocacy, service, and scholarship programs.

Rosalyn Payne Epps was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and grew up on the campus of Savannah State College in Georgia. As an undergraduate she majored in zoology and chemistry at Howard University and graduated cum laude in 1951. She continued her medical education there, graduating with honors in 1955.

After completing her internship and residency, Dr. Epps spent ten years at the Bureau of Maternal and child Health at the D. C. Department of Public Health, from 1961 to 1971, and in 1973 earned her master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She was chief of the Bureau of Hospitals at the D.C. Department of Human Resources from 1971 to 1975, then chief of the Bureau of Clinical Services and in 1980 was made acting commissioner of public health.

Dr. Epps was a scientific program administrator from 1995 to 1998, at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, where she planned and implemented strategies to distribute smoking prevention and cessation research results to a hundred thousand health professionals throughout the United States and abroad. She was also program officer for several research initiatives focusing on cancer screening and diagnosis.

Dr. Epp's career has included research, private practice, and work at the D.C. Department of Public Health, including medical officer in child health clinics, director of the comprehensive Clinic for Retarded Children, chief of the Infant and Preschool Division, director of the Children and Youth Project, chief of the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, director of Maternal and Child Health and Crippled Children's Services, and chief of the Bureau of Clinical Services. In 1980, Dr. Epps was appointed the district's first acting commissioner of public health, supervising three thousand employees, managing a thirty-million-dollar budget, and consolidating five separate administrations into a single commission.

Dr. Epps served as a senior program advisor to the Howard University Women's Health Institute, and was a professor emerita of Pediatrics and Child Health at Howard University. From 1984 to 1989 she was chief of its Child Development Division and director of the Child Development Center, where she directed a project to identify and assist learning disabled children, their parents, and schools.

Dr. Epps has authored more than ninety professional articles in peer reviewed publications, including sixteen chapters and books. She co-edited The Women's Complete Healthbook selected by the New York Public Library as one of 1995's most outstanding reference books. She was also co-editor of Developing a Child Care Program, a guide for hospital and corporate decision-makers, and has written health columns in regional and national newspapers.

Dr. Epps was married to her medical school classmate, Charles H. Epps, Jr., MD, an orthopedic surgeon who was dean of Howard University's College of Medicine and currently special assistant for health affairs to the president of Howard University. Three of their children earned the M.D. degree, and one holds an M.B.A.

Question and Answer

Q2. What was my biggest obstacle?

I grew up in the segregated South, on the campus of Savannah State College in Georgia. So in a way I was insulated. When I applied to medical school, I realized things might be different than what I had known. When I went around to medical school interviews I was asked "Why don't you just get married and have children?" When was in medical school and during my internship, sexism and racism were there, though there are no particular incidents that stand out. Sometimes there were sexist jokes or statements. I was one of eight women in my medical school class. When I was asked to join a local chapter of the American Medical Women's Association, half of the white members resigned. Maybe I should have quit, but the ones who left were the ones with the problems.

Q3. How do I make a difference?

I have a close-knit, loving, and supportive family. I am proud of my successful career. I have tried to make contributions in a number of areas. Plus, I have been able to help other women in medicine—to open doors, hold them open, and help women through. I have enjoyed being a mentor to others. My approach is to always look at what I can contribute and do to advance something.

Q4. Who was my mentor?

As a young person my mother, who always worked, was my mentor. Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, principal of my high school, was also an inspiration. She built up a high school from nothing, and taught the importance of values, determination, and sticking to what you believe in. Later Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee was a role model. I observed her and realized that one can have a broader role in medicine—that there are important things you can do beyond what you do in a practice.

My parents, who were both educators, were supportive of whatever I wanted to do, and encouraged me in subtle ways. When I was a child, they took me to hear Dr. Charles Drew speak. And uncles on both sides of my family were doctors, so I knew doctors existed.