Anissa Mattison joins College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Detroit Medical Center campus as assistant dean


In college, Anissa Mattison almost decided to become a research scientist working in a lab. But when she discovered osteopathic medicine while completing her undergraduate degree at Dillard University, she decided to attend MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine instead, eventually becoming a fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetrics and Gynecology and an AOA board-certified osteopathic OB/GYN.

Similarly, Mattison didn’t start her medical career thinking she’d go into academics. But having amazing mentors helped her get where she is today — a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Surgical Specialties at MSU, and the newly-appointed assistant dean of the college’s Detroit Medical Center campus.

After graduating from medical school, Mattison completed her residency at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital and then ventured to Wisconsin. But as her family grew, they opted to move back to the Detroit area, where her husband is from. It was during that time that Mattison began working with Dr. Valerie Payne-Jackson, who served as a mentor and suggested Mattison might want to consider becoming assistant director of the obstetrics and gynecology residency program at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital.

When Payne-Jackson retired, Mattison took over the program director position, which in many ways prepared her for her new assistant dean post.

“Being in that position, I was able to see things from a different point of view,” Mattison said. “I was able to have a say in who we would be bringing into the program, and therefore who would be coming out of the program, and how they would go out and influence people.”

At the time, the residency program was already pretty diverse, and it was important to Mattison that it continue along that path and become even more diverse.

As Mattison got more involved in various committees and leadership positions, she noticed that often, she was the only Black voice, and sometimes the only woman. Over the past 10 years, she’s seen many more women at the table, but there still aren’t enough people of color in leadership positions.

“We need more diversity in medicine,” Mattison said. “Understanding the cultural context of things can change the way that you're providing care. It can shorten that interval from ‘I don't feel good’ to ‘I'm getting better.’”

When the position of assistant dean at the Detroit Medical Center campus came up, it was two other mentors, Dr. Jonathan Rohrer and Dr. Kari Hortos, who encouraged her to apply. Mattison brings a passion for teaching future doctors how to best serve their patients to her post.

“I grew up utilizing public health centers, so I really do have an intimate understanding of how people can feel when they come to the doctor and that vulnerability,” Mattison explained.

Helping residents see things from a different point of view and changing the way they look at their patients was a priority for Mattison in her work as a residency program director.

“To be able to have that impact with medical students who are just coming in the door was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.”

Osteopathic medicine, in Mattison’s view, is uniquely suited to bridge the gap between patient and doctor.

“One of the things I try to teach is that your intentions may be good, but if you can't build trust, the outcome is never going to be what you expect. People need to understand that it can be a long bridge to cross, especially in communities of color, especially in communities that have been victimized and mistreated, that have not been fully respected in their whole humanness. But it can be crossed, and it starts with the tenet that your patient is a whole person sitting in front of you. You need to let them tell you their story.”

For Mattison, the Detroit area is home. “I’ve seen lots of changes in Detroit since I moved here in the 90s. Some of them are great, but you also don't want the people who have lived here for generations to feel that they're being marginalized in their own backyard,” she said.

One of her big focuses moving forward will be deepening the medical school’s existing connections within the community, to foster trust and to recruit a diverse group of applicants in the years ahead.

“People don’t always know what osteopathy is and who we are. But sometimes just seeing the face, knowing what's out there, and seeing the possibility can make a big difference,” Mattison said. “When I saw Dr. Payne-Jackson, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a Black woman.’ Now, someone might see me and think, ‘Oh, she's an assistant dean at the medical school.’ I think just that image can be powerful. I am humbled, and I will project that with gratitude, and with respect, and hope that can start the wheels turning in some other young person who sees what the possibilities could be.”

Mattison started her position on March 1. In addition to the Detroit Medical Center campus’ students and faculty, Mattison is especially looking forward to working with Dr. Marita Gilbert, the college’s new associate dean of diversity and inclusion.

“In the short time since I started, I've talked to so many of the faculty and students. Hearing some of the things that they want to do, I'm just excited about being part of their plans,” she said. “Dr. Gary Willyerd has done so much to give the Detroit Medical Center campus a strong foundation. So, the roots have taken hold. Now, I'm just trying to build more connections with the community.”