As a member of the Juaneno-Acjachemen Nation who has been active in organizations for both American Indian medical students and physicians, Dr. Laura Ann Williams set a personal goal to improve medical care for American Indian populations. To help achieve this goal, she has founded, directed and served on the Board of Directors for the California office of the Association of American Indian Physicians.
Laura Williams was born in Santa Fe Springs, California, in 1963, and studied at Whittier College from 1981 to 1983. She transferred to the University of Southern California on an Indian Health Service scholarship, earning her bachelor of science degree in 1986. While still a college student she volunteered in local hospitals and clinics. Working at the Los Angeles American Indian Free Clinic in 1986, she met many physicians who were members of the Association of American Indian Physicians. They encouraged her to train as a physician, and so she left California to attend Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. While there, she joined the Association of Native American Medical Students, serving a term as president, and has since has been active in the Association of American Indian Physicians. Dr. Williams credits these two groups for much of her career success.
After graduating from Tufts in 1991, Dr. Williams returned to California to complete a family practice residency at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. She moved east once more to complete the first multi-cultural community-oriented primary care fellowship at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. During that time, Dr. Williams also earned a master of public health degree at Rutgers University in 1996. She next served as chief medical officer to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and finally returned to California, where she has continued to work with American Indian groups to improve health and medical care.
From 1994 to 1997, Dr. Williams was assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California-Irvine, and directed the Native American Health Research Initiative to assess the needs of the state's urban American Indian population. The results of her research, "Native Voices for Change," were published in 2000.
The first California Indian woman to hold a medical faculty position in the University of California system, Dr. Williams established and is director of the Association of American Indian Physicians California Office. There, Dr. Williams is responsible for developing the Native American Research Center for Community Health to improve medical care of urban American Indian populations. The center serves members of local Juaneno-Acjachemen, Gabrielino-Tongva, and Chumash Nations, as well as Navajo, Sioux, and Choctaw from other areas. Dr. Williams facilitates collaboration between these communities and local universities, including the San Diego State University School of Public Health and the University of California San Diego College of Medicine, and heads the Student Mentorship Program, encouraging American Indians to pursue careers in medicine and research.
Dr. Williams also promotes cancer control and prevention, providing pap smears and mammograms with funding from a Career Development Award from the American Cancer Society and the State of California Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program.
In 1999, Dr. Laura Williams received the American Cancer Society Primary Care Development Award, and in 2000, she was named Orange County Business Woman of the Year by the Orange County Business Journal.