Hilda Hutcherson Biography
Obstetrician-gynecologist, educator, author
Dr. Hilda Hutcherson is professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology, director of Gynecologic Teaching Associates, associate dean of minority affairs and diversity, and sits on the admissions committee at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. Hutcherson is also an obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice. She trains new doctors and is an accomplished author, guiding African-American women through their pregnancies and advising women about their sexuality. Her work appears in advice columns in Essence and Glamour magazines and she shares her expertise in television interviews with personalities like Oprah Winfrey. Hutcherson sits on the advisory boards of several national magazines and is co-director of the New York Center for Women's Sexual Health at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.
Hutcherson was born on January 21, 1955, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents, Bernice and John Hutcherson, were good Christians who taught their five children the meaning of hard work and perseverance. They also instilled the value of education. "Get something in your head," John would tell his children, Hutcherson told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). "They can never take that away from you." For Bernice and John, caring for the large family on little income and making meals stretch from day to day was a major feat. They had no idea how their example would influence Hutcherson. When she was nine years old she announced that she would become a doctor, and she meant it. But young Hutcherson recalls those adults who tried to discourage her. "There were people who told me I couldn't do it," she told CBB. Although they were well meaning, they felt her race and the fact that she was poor and dark-skinned would hold her back. When Hutcherson told a high school guidance counselor about her plans to attend an Ivy League college the response was, "You can't do that. You'll just fail and embarrass your parents." But the negative messages made Hutcherson more determined, a trait she inherited from both her parents. "My father wouldn't take no for an answer and my mother would say 'There's no such thing as can't,'" Hutcherson said. With their encouragement Hutcherson stuck to her goals, never wavering. She also had her faith to boost her resolve.
Although her first choice was to become a pediatrician, Hutcherson's unpleasant encounter with a campus physician later convinced her to reconsider. Hutcherson found the experience to be "distasteful" at best. The doctor's technique and bedside manner were both lacking. "He didn't spend any time talking with me, he made assumptions about me that weren't true, and the exam was painful," Hutcherson recalls. "That experience stayed with me, and I changed my focus to gynecology. I thought I could make a difference." She related well with women, enjoyed discussions about their health, was interested in surgery, and definitely liked delivering babies. She also brought a certain needed empathy to her work.
Although Hutcherson's patients come from many ethnicities and socio-economic groups, she finds that many are uncomfortable about their sexuality. She also senses that black women tend to have more shame than other ethnic groups. She feels the source of these feelings is tied to religious beliefs and double standards. Many young black women, influenced by church teachings, believe that even thinking about sex in many natural circumstances could be a sin. These same women, once married, can find it difficult to see sexuality as being a positive thing. These attitudes can have a negative affect on relationships and self-image. But young black men are taught contrary views of their sexuality, resulting in a conflict in values for couples. Hutcherson has written several books and articles aimed at helping others with their sexuality, health, and pregnancy concerns.
Hutcherson loves writing and uses it to advise women about concerns many cannot discuss with their own doctors. She also helps these women through her monthly columns in Essence magazine and as a contributing editor and columnist for Glamour magazine, dispelling myths and guiding women with expert knowledge and frank advice. Hutcherson's work has appeared in Fitness magazine, Allure, Men's Health, Ebony, and many other major publications. She also serves as an advisory board member for Parents magazine. Her work with the media is extensive. She was a medical consultant for several years on the popular Cosby television show, and appeared in three health-related documentaries: "Care of Your Episiotomy," "Menopause," and "Hysterectomy: Do I Have a Choice?" Hutcherson has appeared on the Montel Williams and Geraldo Rivera shows as well as the ABC Nightly News and Good Morning America. Despite her high-octane schedule, she also finds time to write books: Having Your Baby: A Guide for African-American Women and What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X. The title of the latter publication was a bit of a surprise to her own mother, Hutcherson told CBB with a chuckle. In 2005, Hutcherson was working on her third book.
Hutcherson is tireless and her workweek is generally full. Besides running a medical practice, writing columns and books, teaching medical students, and performing her duties as associate dean at Columbia University, she lectures around the country, exercises several times each week, and is raising four children with her husband, Frederic, an anesthesiologist. But she loves it. The toughest part of it all, she related to CBB, is when she has to deliver bad news. Unlike some doctors, Hutcherson finds that it is difficult not to become emotionally attached to her patients. She remembers each of them, and their lives are all very important to her. Often she calls them at home to share positive words during difficult times.
The work Hutcherson does, although important to her readers and patients, is not always easy for her own family. She recalls the discomfort her teenage daughter felt initially about some of the subjects she discusses in her columns. But now her daughter's friends think she's a pretty "cool" lady after seeing her on shows with Oprah and Montel Williams. Her husband gets his share of teasing from his co-workers as well, but takes it all in stride. In fact, Hutcherson's entire family likely looks on her many accomplishments with a great deal of pride.
Having Your Baby: A Guide for African-American Women, Ballantine Books, 1997.
What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X, Penguin Putnam Publishing, 2002.
Essence, April 2004, p. 67.
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Dr. Hilda Hutcherson on July 21, 2005.
—Sharon Melson Fletcher
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