At just 7 years old, she witnessed the impact of chronic illness on her younger brother, who had severe asthma. During his stay at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Riddle-Jones befriended Sarah, a 5-year-old girl who had cancer. They were fast friends and playmates — until one day, Sarah was gone.
“I remember getting on the elevator for my brother’s outpatient appointment and saw Sarah’s mom. Sarah had passed away,” Riddle-Jones says. “That’s when I realized I wanted to go into pediatric medicine. It was a very defining moment, and I will never forget it.”
These early experiences continued to shape her career goals. Growing up in Inkster and eventually Southfield, she attended high school at the prestigious Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield Hills on scholarship.
“Seeing the disparities between my home neighborhood and the students at my school motivated me to push for what I’m doing now,” she says.
In addition to being on staff at the two aforementioned hospitals, she works as the medical director at Corktown Health Center, southeast Michigan’s largest LGBTQ+-focused primary care center; is a representative on the diversity and inclusion committee for the Department of Internal Medicine at Wayne State University; and serves as an advisor for FitKids 360, an eight-week childhood obesity intervention program based in Detroit.
In January, Riddle-Jones will be leading Corktown Health Center on a mission to provide better health care for transgender women.
With a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at the University of Michigan and Columbia University in New York will work with community health centers, including Corktown, to help prevent HIV and AIDS among transgender women of color in the Detroit and New York City areas.
Researchers and clinicians will partner with the Trans Sistas of Color Project Detroit, an organization that helps local transgender women of color gain access to hormones and assists them with gender-affirming changes.
“We’ll be looking into the best ways to provide intervention, medication, and comprehensive preventive care practices,” Riddle-Jones says. “And we’re also looking at best practices to better engage trans women of color.”
It is a population that faces numerous systemic barriers to consistent and quality health care: stigma, transphobia, poverty, and racism, to name a few.
According to a 2020 survey from the Center for American Progress, 40 percent of transgender adults report experiencing mistreatment or discrimination with a health provider. More than half of transgender respondents, including 60 percent of respondents of color, said they postponed or completely avoided a doctor visit because they could not afford it.
Riddle-Jones has a way with patients that empowers them, and she connects them to services that will help them feel valued, says Teresa Roscoe, chief operating officer of Corktown Health Center.
“She looks at people as experts in their own bodies,” says Roscoe, who met Riddle-Jones in 2017 when Riddle-Jones became the clinic’s first medical director. “She has a very lovely manner about her to help people really engage and broaden their perspectives.”
Riddle-Jones graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in chemical engineering — she loved calculus, and her dad was “big on having a backup plan,” she says, though she ultimately didn’t need one.
As a student and resident juggling dual certification in internal medicine and pediatrics with motherhood (she has two children, ages 14 and 11), Riddle-Jones “didn’t see limits,” says Eric Ayers, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Ayers was the program director for internal medicine and pediatrics residency training and the director of the university’s Black Medical Association. They connected over their shared interests but also over shared experiences as underrepresented minorities in medical school.
Ayers calls her a “shero, queen, and a Wayne State Warrior.”
“She’s been able to stay focused on those things that are near and dear to her heart, and she’s always been an advocate of women’s health,” Ayers says. “She has shown that with belief and motivation, you can achieve and do a lot of things.”
This story is from the October 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.