Rosemarie Hemmings discusses self-care, social work, and public health in new oral history interview

A professional headshot of Rosemarie Hemmings, a Black woman, smiling, against a neutral gray background.Historical Collections & Archives is excited to announce a new addition to our Oral History Program. This interview features Rosemarie Hemmings, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. being interviewed by Susie Goolsby, D.D.S., M.S.H.A. Dr. Hemmings is an Assistant Professor in community dentistry and Director of Social Work within the OHSU School of Dentistry. She has developed and is teaching an innovative inter-professional curriculum related to social determinants of health within the dental school, which she discusses in this interview.

She begins, though, by recounting her childhood in New York, with summers often spent in Jamaica. She talks about how this afforded her a diverse upbringing, and how the connection to her family history that she gained from her time in Jamaica grounded and humbled her. But it also instilled in her a powerful nature that doesn’t mince words when she notes injustice or inequity.

Originally in school for music, Hemmings chose to study social work in college after her advisor and mentor suggested it may be a good fit for her. In various roles, she has found herself working in hospice care with HIV/AIDS patients, with rape survivors, and with many others facing difficult circumstances, and she found that she was comfortable with death and pain in a way that many others weren’t. She wanted to learn who was helping the people who were facing these unbearable situations and what could be done for them. Hemmings highlights the idea of self-care throughout her interview, but not in a way that we may be used to hearing in a world full of suggestions to stop and take a breath, drink more water, or take a yoga class when you’re feeling down. While the events were stressful for her, she could take some time to sit and meditate on things, and then be able to look at the changed lives and the transitions people made into lighter and healthier places. She could see the part she played in those transitions. This ability allows her to enter spaces that others may not be able to and to work to better the lives of people suffering in a variety of ways.

One way to eliminate bias is to ask what breaks your heart? What gives you joy?

As her career progressed, Hemmings found that through social work, she was often affecting individual lives and correcting for the same issues again and again. She wanted to work on a larger scale, a macro level. That’s why she began to focus more on public health and affecting change at a larger systemic and statewide level – to be able to help populations rather than only individuals. Her current research focus continues that work – looking at socioeconomic barriers in accessing healthcare and how the lack of diversity within a profession deters folks from marginalized populations from accessing healthcare.

A self-described private person, Hemmings opens up in this interview and shares a vast amount about herself; her motivations; the connections between social work, public health, and dentistry; and the importance of mentorship and representation in the profession.

You can read the entire interview, and over 130 other oral history interviews, in our Digital Collections.


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