A small town girl from Kannapolis, North Carolina, Dr. Sharon Allison-Ottey ’95 (fondly known as Dr. Sharon) found her passion for medicine in a book she read as a child. “According to my father, from an early age of five or six—it depends on what day he’s telling the story—I knew I was going to be a doctor. He tells anyone who will listen that he bought a big ABC book for me and that when I saw that ‘D’ was for dog, but also doctor, I proclaimed that this was what I was going to be when I grew up,” said Dr. Sharon. Her love for medicine has helped her make a career in health, motivational speaking, and inspirational greeting cards that offer “health moments.”
The only daughter in a house with four sons, Dr. Sharon understood competition and strived in everything she did to put her best foot forward. “My family instilled in me the tenants of hard work, of giving back to the community, and of finding my own rhythm. Although I lived in a small town in the South where women were often relegated to certain roles, my family always supported me and told me that I could do absolutely anything. However, my mother wanted me to remember that I was a girl and then later a young lady, and that some things I had to learn. I am grateful to her for giving me the warmth and the mothering that allowed me to embrace my womanhood and to now love some of those ‘traditional’ roles like cooking; cleaning is definitely out but cooking, I can do that,” laughed Dr. Sharon.
Finding her calling
It was Dr. Sharon’s innate curiosity—always wanting to know the “why” of it all—that truly led her into medicine. And the first impression she made at the Brody School of Medicine was a memorable one. “I remember interviewing at ECU and at the close of my interview the then head of Brody Admissions said, ‘I have never interviewed anyone in pink.’ I wore a pink cashmere sweater dress and long matching jacket to the interview. This was despite being told that you MUST wear a black or blue suit. After acceptance and during the first year, I often saw the dean and he would call me ‘pinky.’ He said that I stood out and told me: ‘To thine own self be true’ and winked.”
Dr. Sharon excelled in medical school and ECU nurtured her inner-leader. She served as president of the Student National Medical Association’s (SNMA) local chapter and became one of the first female chairman of the board of directors of the SNMA at the national level. “ECU taught me what it meant to see a tall, wide mountain that seems unconquerable—to see it and then to piece by piece climb it no matter what the obstacles, and even if you hit a rough spot (like biochemistry, physiology, phew) to keep moving forward.” Today, Dr. Sharon’s medical interests focus on health literacy, women’s health, and minority health and disparities.
“I am passionate about health literacy, which is simply the ability to read, act, and understand health information. I have spent a large portion of my career working at advancing this as an agenda on the national level. I am honored to have worked on commissions and advisory boards, and spoken on this issue with many of the nation’s leading health advocates, including former surgeon generals. I am convinced that the ‘language’ of mumbo jumbo medicine must be thrown out the door and that doctors must speak the language that patients understand,” remarked Dr. Sharon. She has been featured on television shows, on radio, and in magazines as a healthcare expert and professional.
“I am also very passionate about women’s health. Probably 50% of my speeches/presentations revolve around women’s issues. I recently launched a national initiative entitled Beautiful Woman Inside and Out, the focus of which is to embrace and empower women to better health and healthier lifestyle practices. I’m very committed to HIV/AIDS in women—thus the subject of my first novel—breast cancer, and domestic violence. Ten percent of all proceeds from my greeting card company are donated to that end,” said Dr. Sharon.
“I am dedicated to minority health and health disparities. I’ve said publically that I don’t want to hear
the words again—I want to see action. We’ve talked about it forever—so what now? There is not one answer. There are many answers, and we must spend less time writing long reports and more time meeting people where they are. I’ve been fortunate to conduct major health outreach and initiatives that have literally touched hundreds of thousands at events, through our work with the COSHAR Foundation and other organizations.”
What started in 1995 out of a need to help houses of faith shape their health/wellness message, the COSHAR Foundation is a non-profit organization that is committed to impacting the health of the world, one community at a time. Dr. Sharon is one of the founders of the organization and developed its National Health Ministry Network, one of the driving forces within the foundation. “This network began with four churches and now we have more than 24,500 houses of worship and more than 350 community organizations that participate. The foundation provides technical support, offers programs and initiatives with the ‘how to’ information for our members and other churches. One of our most recently successful programs is called Saving our Children and it is a program targeting the minority community in an attempt to raise the rates of childhood vaccinations. Over the three years that we’ve operated this program, we’ve touched millions of lives. This network is a great vehicle to reach people where they are—often it is in the pews once a week—why not talk about heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, etc.,” said Dr. Sharon.
Reaching broader audiences
With a gift for communicating and ease of public speaking, it was easy for Dr. Sharon to include motivational speaking in her career. Focused primarily on health-related issues, Dr. Sharon draws crowds wherever she presents. “I enjoy public speaking and love to feed off of the audiences. My goal is to give information in a way that is informative, but entertaining and thought provoking. I want to hear the laughter, see the tears, and feel the energy that will drive people to do something
about their lives—whether that’s health, self-esteem, or motivation. I love talking about how to navigate the healthcare system, women’s health, and other topics like avoiding burnout.”
Dr. Sharon is no stranger to burnout and found solace during those tough days of medical school by journaling, a hobby she started in high school. She has kept journals to escape from daily challenges and used the writing as a creative outlet; a method she says helps maintain her sanity. This creativity transitioned into another aspect of her career—author. Not only has Dr. Sharon written myriad articles for medical publications, she has also penned three books: All I Ever Did Was Love a Man
, its sequel My Breaking Heart
, and Is that Fried Chicken Wing Worth It?
The first two are novels about a single mother and her journey through true love, romance, heartbreak, mystery, humor, and friendship. The books’ plots tie in an important medical aspect as the main character learns she is HIV positive. Dr. Sharon’s other book is a humorous, real-life approach on dealing with weight and the mindset necessary to get healthy and stay that way. She compares the number of crunches required to burn calories from one chicken wing as motivation to think twice about food and measuring one’s own self-worth. “In my fiction writing, I want readers to get lost in the characters and at the end of the day have looked inside themselves, or see others in a different light. The greatest compliments that I have gotten are ones where readers say, ‘I couldn’t put the book down.’ In my nonfiction writing, I want to equip readers with practical tools that they can readily use to improve their lives. I am always in search of the ‘aha!’ moment for myself and also try to give that to readers.”
Sharing knowledge and inspiration is what drives Dr. Sharon. She is compassionate, caring, and genuinely desires others to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Cards by Dr. Sharon is another way she inspires and heals. This line of greeting cards offers comforting, celebratory messages with simple health tips. “I don’t quite remember how this brain child was born, but it really is an extension of finding unique ways to uplift, motivate, and slip in a little health/wellness. No matter how it was conceived, 400 cards later I am in it for the long haul,” said Dr. Sharon. “I want to be clear that these are not health cards—they’re holiday, birthday, and general cards that are beautiful and worthy of purchase without the added extra of a health moment on the back.” Cards by Dr. Sharon offers special fundraising opportunities for schools, churches, social and civic organizations. Groups can receive up to a 50% return on boxes of cards sold through the To Your Success Program. The business also offers novelty items such as magnets, ceramic mugs, and calendars.
Her ultimate healing
Dr. Sharon has been recognized with numerous awards and honors for her work in promoting health education, including the Scroll of Merit in 2002 from the National Medical Association. Additionally, she is the first female to be awarded the title chairman emeritus of the SNMA.
With the many hats Dr. Sharon wears, healthcare is still her top priority. Educating and inspiring others to a life of wellness is her ultimate goal. “I want the public to value and put a priority on their health. That’s it—what we value and what we prioritize we take care of. The man with the prized car will wash it, polish it, and spend hours under its hood. The woman with the perfect pair of designer shoes will put them in a special place to assure that they are not damaged. I challenge audiences all over the country to value their health and wellness more than any material thing
and to do all possible to attain and maintain their best health.”