Physician Committed to Helping Patients Better Understand Their Medical Treatment


OB-GYN physician who recently joined the medical school feels fulfilled being a mentor and role model to others following in her footsteps.

Confused. Dr. Annette Mayes, now an assistant professor in the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV Department of Gynecologic Surgery & Obstetrics, didn’t like feeling that way 50 years ago. Neither did her mother.

“I remember being taken to the doctor by my mom and leaving the appointment, both of us confused because we couldn’t understand the words the doctor was using. I had decided in elementary school I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. In those moments at the doctor’s I thought I’ll never have my patients leave their appointment in complete confusion about their diagnosis and their treatment. You’re not helping people that way. That’s why I tell medical students and residents not to talk about hypertension with a patient, talk about their high blood pressure. Don’t say their glucose is too high. Tell them their sugar is too high. You have to relate with your patients if you want them to follow the treatments you’ve prescribed

Making the practice of medicine understandable to her patients is something Mayes has been doing for nearly 30 years in Las Vegas, the vast majority of it in private practice. Like many people, she came to the growing town in the desert for the opportunity it provides. During her time here, her dedication to making medical issues more comprehensible grew as she wrote a column in Black Image Magazine that clearly explained everything from sickle cell disease to how the autoimmune disease lupus can affect women who want to get pregnant.

“When someone has lupus, their body attacks its own cells and organs, including skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys, and brain – because it can’t differentiate between healthy cells and foreign germs or viruses,” she wrote in the April 30 edition of the publication. “Women with lupus can safely get pregnant and most will have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. However, all women with lupus who get pregnant are considered ‘high risk.’ This means that problems during pregnancy may be more likely for women with lupus; it doesn’t mean there will definitely be complications. Your lupus disease should be under control or in remission for six months before getting pregnant. Being pregnant with active lupus could result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or other serious health problems for you or your baby.”

No, patients and potential patients don’t need a medical dictionary handy when they turn to Mayes for an explanation or advice.

Though she taught Touro medical school students and UNLV nursing students as an adjunct professor, Mayes, who’s been at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine about two months, says she is looking forward to spending more time teaching medical students and residents in addition to her clinical duties as a faculty physician.

“My daughter just recently graduated from veterinary school and often talked about the lack of diversity, rarely seeing a professor of color, and how much it distressed her. I had been encouraging her to consider staying in academia and being a mentor and role model for future veterinarians of color. Then I realized I needed to take my own advice. I have been with UNLV for six weeks. I have worked with one Black student here, and I could tell she was shocked and encouraged to see me. After just a few words with her, she asked me if I would be interested in mentoring. When I walk into a Black patient’s room and say I am the faculty physician, I can see the admiration and surprise in their faces. They feel more comfortable. I didn’t think it would make such a big difference for patients to see doctors who look like them, but it does. I’ve seen it repeatedly. I think minority doctors need to be seen. Young minority people need to see that there are minority doctors out there, and it’s not an impossibility for them to become a physician.”

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Mayes was raised in Northern California, the last of six children who were mostly raised by a single mother who didn’t graduate from high school. “In my early years, my mom worked as a housekeeper, and she would bring home second-hand books from her employer. She always encouraged us to spend Saturdays in the library. My sister and I would go and spend hours there and then check out as many books as allowed.”

Her love for reading, Mayes says, paid dividends in furthering her education. A 6th grade teacher was so impressed by her comprehension of subject matter that he had her tested for entrance into Castilleja School, a private college prep school in Palo Alto, California, for middle and high school age girls. While initially behind in her academics at the school, she would soon thrive there, always in the top 5 percent of her class. “I think attending Castilleja School changed the course of my life. I was introduced to so many things that my siblings were not. I was the first to realize that our world could be so much bigger. Having a 6th grade teacher see a bright child and making it a goal to change that student’s life was the catalyst.”

She applied to many schools for her undergraduate work – including Stanford, Brown, Yale, and Northwestern – and was accepted at all of them. “Stanford felt like home to me, and I never regretted my choice to attend. It was progressive and encouraged free thinking. It had a very strong and supportive Black community with the idea that we would all help each get through and achieve our goals. There was the Black Pre-Med Society, where for the first time ever, I saw Black pre-med students and Black doctors who told me if they ‘did it’ then so could I.”

Appreciative of the UC San Diego School of Medicine allowing students to immediately participate in some clinical work, as well as the beautiful weather in that area, Mayes attended medical school there. And then she went to the University of Texas Health Science Center to complete her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, a specialty she still loves today.

“Bringing new life into the world is fulfilling. It sounds cliche, but it’s true,” she says. “But I think I get more excited now when I see the dads getting involved in the delivery and becoming emotional at the birth. I also like working with problems that can be fixed, and in gynecology, we can mostly fix things. We don’t usually have the chronic conditions that you see in internal medicine. It is very fulfilling to fix things, to make the quality of life better for patients.”