- Kimberly Wilson's startup, Hued, connects people of color with culturally competent doctors.
- Wilson, who has fibroids, once drove 250 miles to see a Black OB-GYN for care tailored to her needs.
- This article is part of "Me, First," a series about successful women who prioritize their passions and well-being.
Kimberly Wilson had long struggled with her period. As a teen, she soaked through ultra tampons in 30 minutes, and her menstrual pain often kept her home from school.
By the time she entered the workforce, Wilson's symptoms had intensified. She struggled with severe constipation and unexplained weight gain.
Then, one morning after a workout in 2017, Wilson doubled over in pain. She couldn't even get herself into an Uber to the emergency room without assistance, and on the way to the hospital, she had to open the car door multiple times to vomit.
"I thought I was going to die," Wilson, then 29, said.
At the hospital, Wilson was diagnosed with 30 fibroids, noncancerous growths in her uterus. They are especially common — and underdiagnosed — in Black women.
"I had never heard of fibroids, and then to find out I had 30 — it was a lot," she said. So was stomaching the solution her white male doctor gave her: a hysterectomy.
"There was no level setting," Wilson said. "He was just so flippant with me."
I knew I was going to do everything within my human capacity to make it work.
Wilson sought second, third, and fourth opinions from other doctors, all of whom were white men. She said they either dismissed her pain or insisted a hysterectomy was her only option. It wasn't until she visited a Black woman OB-GYN that she found someone who validated her experience and offered her a uterus-sparing treatment.
Now 34, Wilson is the founder of Hued, a digital-health company focused on improving quality of care for Black, Latino, and Indigenous populations through education, access, and data. It began by pairing patients of color with culturally competent providers so that fewer people would have experiences like Wilson's.
"I believe in and bet on myself," said Wilson, who put her savings into starting the company while on bed rest from surgery to remove her fibroids. "I knew I was going to do everything within my human capacity to make it work."
A culturally competent OB-GYN changed Wilson's life
While some people with fibroids experience few to no side effects, others struggle with heavy periods, fertility problems, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal problems, and more.
Wilson was among the latter group and needed morphine to cope.
Determined to save her uterus, Wilson took her mom's advice and a friend's recommendation to seek out a Black female OB-GYN for a fifth opinion. That meant traveling more than 250 miles from her home in New York to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, but she said it was worth it.
Why is it so hard to find providers that see me and understand me and care about my lived experiences as a Black woman?
"The experience was a complete 180, from bedside manner to treatment options, to even recommendations and resources relative to managing my diagnosis," Wilson, who now lives in Washington, DC, said.
She eventually underwent an abdominal myomectomy, an invasive procedure to remove her fibroids that required six to eight weeks of bed rest. By then, her business plan for Hued was well underway.
"Why is it so hard to find providers that see me and understand me and care about my lived experiences as a Black woman?" Wilson said of her feelings at the time. "That became the catalyst for me starting Hued."
Hued has expanded from its original model as a 'Zocdoc for people of color'
Wilson launched Hued in 2019. She credits her experience in law school and with various service and social-impact organizations with giving her the connections and confidence to build a business from the ground up.
"I've always been a person who has been able to bring an idea forth and really execute on that," she said.
At first, the company was like a "Zocdoc for us, by us," Wilson said. But with only 6% of healthcare providers in the US identifying as Black, many patients, especially in smaller cities and more rural areas, were left wanting.
"It's very problematic to tell a Black patient that the only way to find great care in this country is to find a Black doctor," Wilson said.
Being able to trust myself and trust my gut — that has always guided me.
So Hued has expanded to offer an e-learning platform with anti-racist and implicit-bias training for providers, as well as lessons in culturally competent care, such as identifying skin cancers in Black skin. Serena Williams' venture-capital fund is among those that helped Hued raise $1.6 million in seed funding last year.
Wilson said the pandemic's spotlight on health and racial-justice issues has benefited the business. It now has 11 full- and part-time employees and has been featured in publications including Forbes and NBC.
All the while, she's relied on the same instinct that drove her to find a fifth opinion for her fibroids.
"I was going to do anything and everything that was going to be best for me at that time," Wilson said. "Being able to trust myself and trust my gut — that has always guided me."