Meet Dr. Rodney Taylor, the first African-American to chair Otorhinolaryngology practice at an American University in its 75-year history

BY Preta Peace Namasaba September 10, 2023 5:13 PM EDT
Dr. Rodney Taylor. Photo courtesy: Dr. Rodney Taylor

Dr. Rodney Taylor, honored as one of the 30 Black Stars of 2023, is widely recognized as a leading figure in the field of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) medicine, both nationally and within his region. Holding the prestigious position of Professor and Chair of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Taylor has achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first African American to chair this department an an American University in the 75-year history of the specialty.

Under Dr. Taylor’s leadership, the Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (OHNS) department at the University of Maryland has emerged as one of the nation’s top otolaryngology programs.

BlackStars News recently had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Taylor to delve into his background and his remarkable career journey.

“I was always drawn towards science in school and had the opportunity to meet an important mentor who was in medicine. That combined with a summer research internship drew me into a career to be a surgeon-scientist.”

Dr. Taylor’s academic journey is illustrious, with a magna cum laude graduation in Biology from Harvard College, where he also held the role of Senior Class President and excelled as a varsity football player. He was honored with the Francis Burr Award for embodying character, leadership, and athletic prowess. He later earned his MD from Harvard Medical School and was selected as the graduation class speaker. During his time at medical school, Dr. Taylor played a vital role as an academic advisor and counselor for pre-med students at Harvard College.

Subsequently, during his Otolaryngology Residency Program at the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Taylor expanded his horizons by obtaining a Master of Public Health from the university’s School of Public Health.

For a span of 18 years, Dr. Taylor served as an Assistant Professor and later as an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Recounting some of the challenges he encountered along his journey, Dr. Taylor said:

“Navigating my journey and not being dissuaded when there were people who were overtly unhappy to see me succeed. Also, at some point in my journey not having the financial means to pursue opportunities and also experiencing momentary dips and my confidence that I might be successful.”

Despite these challenges, a defining moment in Dr. Taylor’s career came in 2019 when he was appointed as Professor and Chairman of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

After years of hard work and development as a leader, I became the chairman of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the University of Maryland, a nationally ranked department, and then subsequently learned that I was the first African American in the 75-year history of the specialty to ever become a department chairman of otorhinolaryngology at a US medical school.

Dr. Taylor’s groundbreaking research has centered on the pioneering gene system known as ZSCAN4, which plays a crucial role in enabling cancer cells to divide and survive in ways that normal cells cannot. His work has advanced our understanding of cancer cell replication and has made valuable contributions to the field of regenerative medicine. Additionally, Dr. Taylor conducts research programs that address disparities in head and neck cancer care, particularly for underrepresented and disadvantaged patients.

Committed to serving others, Dr. Taylor co-founded a team of ENT surgeons who have regularly traveled to Haiti to provide advanced surgical care and training for physicians. He also established a nonprofit organization, MENTA, dedicated to delivering global healthcare and education in regions with limited healthcare access in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific islands.

Dr. Taylor is a trailblazer in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in otolaryngology. He actively participates in the University of Maryland School of Medicine Diversity Committee and develops unconscious bias training for faculty and staff. Furthermore, he chairs the national Head and Neck Surgery & Oncology committee and serves on the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Diversity Committee.

Recognizing the significant impact of role models, Dr. Taylor generously makes himself available to Black students and trainees across the country, offering tangible inspiration for the realization of their dreams.

Reflecting on his journey, Dr. Taylor acknowledges the pivotal role of his mentor, Alan Counter:

 “I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor and Alan Counter when I was an undergraduate. He was a Black neuroscientist at Harvard who taught me that you can be bold and unapologetic even when you or one that very few. Simply observing him gave me enormous confidence to set out on my trajectory.

In addition to his numerous achievements, Dr. Taylor has contributed to the advisory board of the CURE Scholars Mentoring Program, aimed at providing middle and high school students in West Baltimore with access to competitive research, healthcare, and STEM-related career opportunities. Moreover, he advises Black graduates entering the workforce to actively seek mentors and cultivate a robust professional network.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Dr. Taylor is an avid runner and marathon enthusiast, having completed more than 25 marathons around the world, including in Boston, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, and Tokyo. His life motto is to find joy in each day, regardless of the circumstances, embodying a youthful and vibrant approach to life.

Dr. Rodney Taylor continues to inspire and pave the way for aspiring young Black individuals in STEM. While he may hold the distinction of being the first African American to chair the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at an American university, he is committed to ensuring that he won’t be the last.