When Delana Wardlaw and Elana McDonald were 8 years old, the identical twins' grandmother died of breast cancer. She was only 53. As they got older they realized that lack of quality health care in their Philadelphia community likely contributed to her early death.
Determined to change that for the next generation — and with encouragement from parents who made education a priority — both eventually decided to become doctors. They graduated together from Central High School in Philadelphia, followed by Temple University and Penn State's College of Medicine.
"I wanted to enter a profession where I could make a long-term difference in people's lives," says McDonald, a pediatrician.
Now 46, both women live and practice in Philadelphia, where they have been building trust and spreading awareness for 20 years.
"Our goal was to make sure people in underserved areas are getting the best health care possible," says McDonald. "We want to educate as much as we can."
Courtesy Drs. Elana Mcdonald & Delana Wardlaw Dr. Delana Wardlaw and Dr. Elana McDonald
Wardlaw, a family practitioner, says they aim to establish trust among community members and encourage them to become "active advocates" of their own health.
McDonald explains further. "We understand that it's very important for people to feel comfortable with those who are giving them medical information," she says. "And we know based on the history in the United States, a lot of people, especially African Americans, were uncomfortable with the medical establishment."
The sisters' outreach exists at many levels, from their website TheTwinSisterDocs to @TwinSisterDocs on social media, from town halls to local radio shows. "We are giving people the chance to ask questions," says Wardlaw.
Since the pandemic, the twins' main focus has been educating their community and patients about COVID-19, volunteering at testing sites and addressing vaccine hesitancy.
"African Americans were disproportionately affected by COVID," says Wardlaw. "And there is so much misinformation."
To confront it, the sisters, each of whom is married with two kids, share personal stories with patients. "I tell them I've taken the vaccine, my children have been vaccinated, and I trust the science," says McDonald.
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Take 72-year-old Stanley Adams, for example. A patient of Wardlaw's for 9 years, he was hesitant to get the COVID vaccine at first. "Finally, it just made sense," he says. "She has my best interest at heart. I trust her."
That's exactly the message the sisters hope to convey.
"We come from a community that has social challenges and economic challenges, and we are still very much a part of that community," says Wardlaw. "It was integral in helping us develop into the people who we are today."
Adds McDonald: "We're humbled by how appreciative people are, and we're grateful for the opportunity to give back."