Cedar Hill Graduate Champions Social Justice through Medicine

Cedar Hill High School Class of 2005 Graduate Dr. Jessica Edwards said being a medical professional during the COVID-19 Pandemic is challenging, but she recognizes the importance of serving her patients and the community at this critical time.

“My patients are the ones who keep me going,” said Edwards, who owns and operates Zara Medical in the Central Texas town of New Braunfels. “I have the unique ability to have conversations with patients and hear some of their perspectives.”

Edwards has watched telemedicine, something she utilized prior to COVID-19, becomes so much more important.

Edwards herself contracted and recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year, and she can’t emphasize enough the importance of social distancing and wearing masks.

Edwards is the daughter of a family medicine physician who practiced in Oak Cliff. She was homeschooled and attended private school for most of us her life, until enrolling at CHHS as a sophomore in 2002.

During her years at CHHS, Edwards was part of the theatre program and a member of the National Honor Society.

“One day, I decided to join HOSA (Health Occupational Students of America) and the next thing I knew, I was the president of HOSA,” Edwards said. “I was originally interested in law, but then I saw that you could truly help people through medicine.”

These days, Edwards has the best of both worlds – she is practicing family medicine and delivering babies. She’s also advocating for social justice through policy advocacy, her role on the New Braunfels Diversity Council, op-ed pieces in the local newspaper and through a podcast, “Straight Facts, No Chaser”, that she started in May.

She lives in New Braunfels with her husband of six years, Domonic, and their 3-year-old son, Franklin.

Edwards was recently selected as one of 10 American doctors as part of the Health Policy Fellowship by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. They address health policy and workforce issues with legislators in Washington D.C.

EDWARDS’ EDUCATIONAL JOURNEY

As Edwards' interest in a medical career grew, she continued to excel academically.

Edwards earned a full academic scholarship to Texas Southern University in Houston, as part of the Historically Black College & University’s (HBCU) Frederick Douglass Honors Program.

“I enjoyed my experience at Texas Southern,” Edwards said. “I got to see and experience Black Culture in an amazing way. Going to an HBCU taught me about becoming unapologetically black and how to advocate for myself and those who look like me, no matter where I am.”

While at TSU, Edwards was active in the Houston NAACP Chapter and joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.

“I had a lot of mentors who looked like me, in Pre-Med,” Edwards said. “I stay in touch with a lot of the science teachers, to this day.”

Edwards graduated from TSU with a Biology degree and a minor in Chemistry.

After that experience, she decided to return to the Metroplex, enrolling at the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center in Fort Worth where she earned a Master’s Degree in Medical Sciences.

“It was a great learning experience when it came to how to take care of patients,” Edwards said.

Edwards also earned a degree at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, which was beneficial as well, but she wanted to spend some time outside of Texas.

The residency and fellowship years brought Edwards to northern New Jersey and upstate New York, respectively.

“It was very diverse, and I saw health disparities up-close,” Edwards said. “While I was a resident there, we worked to start an Obstetrician Clinic. So many of our patients didn’t have prenatal care, so we created a program for a more comprehensive program for it.”

Edwards researched the state of prenatal medicine in Texas and chose to return to her home state to make an impact.

“I saw the numbers for maternal mortality rates in Texas, and thought maybe I should return to Texas,” Edwards said. “I’m really glad I did. I became a Medicaid provider, and I found that I can improve outcomes.”

MAKING AN IMPACT IN NEW BRAUNFELS

Edwards chose to practice medicine in New Braunfels, a community located between Austin and San Antonio on Interstate 35. Most Texans know the community as a vacation spot where the Comal and Guadalupe rivers provide recreational opportunities.

Soon after practicing medicine in New Braunfels, Edwards opened her own practice, Zara Medical Aesthetics, in May 2019. Zara means “fruitful” in the ancient language of Aramaic.

While New Braunfels is becoming more diverse, it does not have the diversity of large metropolitan areas in Texas, such as Houston or Dallas-Fort Worth.

Edwards sees that as an opportunity to educate her patients and the community as a whole.

“I am really trying my best to improve the diversity,” said Edwards, who is the only African-American OB practitioner in New Braunfels. 

Edwards regularly contributes Op-Ed articles to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, one of the oldest newspapers in Texas.

One day this summer – shortly after the social justice protests – an individual in the New Braunfels area contributed an article in which he criticized the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I read that article and read it again,” Edwards said. “I thought this is bad, this is just awful. I thought ‘how does someone disparage an entire movement?’”

The newspaper eventually retracted the offensive article, but Edwards wanted to share a response op-ed with factual information to show Black Lives Matters’ important role in achieving racial equality and social justice.

“I worked on that article until 2 or 3 in the morning,” Edwards said. “It was received really well. I haven’t lost any patients over it, and I’ve had so many people say, “Dr. Edwards, I am so proud of you. I am here to educate our community from a factual standpoint.”

Edwards started her podcast, “Straight Facts, No Chaser” shortly after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“I had been on the fence about starting a podcast, but there’s a lot of misunderstanding about police accountability, so it was important to start it,” Edwards said. “I started it in May, and I discuss issues that matter with various guests.”

While Edwards has made an impact in New Braunfels and through the medical community, her potential to enact positive change is limitless. 

“I have aspirations of running for office -- city council, school board or maybe even Governor of Texas one day,” Edwards said. “I want to use my voice for the greater good of everyone.”

To listen to the "Horns Up Half Hour" Podcast interview with Dr. Edwards, log on to https://www.chisd.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=19606&ViewID=E324842B-E4A3-44C3-991A-1E716D4A99E3&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=27844&PageID=14706