From the time Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson was a little girl, becoming a physician was all she ever wanted to do. “I was a doctor for all of my dolls, and I would watch different doctor shows like Marcus Welby, M. D.,” she recalls. “I always kept that dream and desire, and just went full speed ahead after it.” The Arkansas native, who came to St. Louis in 2000, also was inspired by her childhood doctor. “He was truly the old-fashioned type, and I wanted to emulate him. I didn’t have any female physician role models, but it didn’t matter to me. That’s just what I wanted to do.”
Today, Hooks-Anderson is living her dream as a SLUCare family medicine physician and assistant professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. She serves as a doctor for babies to the elderly, with a personal passion for preventive medicine. “My love is educating people on preventing disease, particularly obesity, and how it can cause a host of other diseases like diabetes and hypertension.”
Hooks-Anderson also is an advocate for the uninsured and women’s health issues. She has received the National Health Service Corps award for her commitment to work in an underserved area, including serving Community Women Against Hardship, a local nonprofit organization where she holds workshops. In addition, she promotes assistance for the underserved, women’s health and health care disparities through community speaking engagements. She also serves as a member of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Steering Committee, and as a faculty volunteer at the Health Resource Center—a free clinic in north St. Louis operated by Saint Louis University medical students under the guidance of SLU physicians. For her contributions to the community, Hooks-Anderson received the 2014 Missouri Athletic Club Woman of Distinction award.
And the impact of Hooks-Anderson’s work reaches far beyond St. Louis. She has completed multiple medical mission trips, helping impoverished patients in countries like Zambia and Malawi. In 2006, she joined six health professionals to provide medical examinations to those without access to health care in Zambia. “People were lined up for hours. I saw about 55 to 75 patients a day, just by myself. I left feeling very grateful for everything we have, and noticed how much we take for granted.”
Hooks-Anderson feels she has been blessed in her career, and sees it as her duty to help others. “I believe that—to much is given, much is required.” To that end, she offers career and clinical mentorship to female medical students and residents, many of whom remind Hooks-Anderson of herself. One such medical student recently completed a family medicine rotation with her. “Prior to working with me, she wanted to be an obstetrician. Then, she fell in love with family medicine,” Hooks-Anderson says. “She and I just truly bonded—I felt this connection. Having worked with her is what gave me my purpose. I hope that I played some small part in helping shape her career.”
In her role as a mentor, Hooks-Anderson also has hosted female minority medical school students in her home. “I remember as a student so desperately wanting somebody to take me under their wing. So I give my cell phone number and email address to students, and take them out to lunch. I let them know that they can go out and do whatever they choose to—I tell them, If I did it, I know you can. When you can give someone a positive word, and years later they tell you, I remember when you said that, and it really impacted me—to me, that’s better than a paycheck.”