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Wilmer Petite

Wilmer Petite, MD

Attending Physician
NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health, Tremont

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A Burning Sense of Social Consciousness

At first, it was simple curiosity that drew Dr. Wilmer Petite to medicine. “I was a child who wondered what made things work, and that included the human body,” he says. His father cleaned doctors’ offices for a living and after school the whole family pitched in. There was something fascinating about the surroundings – “the journals, the anatomical charts and atlases and instruments all around me.”

It was only later that Dr. Petite realized that what attracted him to medicine as a career wasn’t so much the trappings as the possibility they represented: “The opportunity to help your fellow man in the most direct way.”

Born in Queens in 1950, Dr. Petite had a rarified New England education, earning scholarships to Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale and then graduating with distinction from Yale medical school. He came home to New York, trained in cardiology at what is now NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem and started his career there with what he considered a dream job: attending cardiologist, with an academic appointment at Columbia medical school, at the storied hospital in a time of great social progress.

“As an African-American, it had extra significance to be at Harlem Hospital, where virtually 100 percent of the patients were African-American and the attending staff had been virtually 100 percent white,” he said. “But I got there as that was all changing. Not only were they recruiting a strong representation of African-American physicians, many of whom were, like me, the first in their families to go to college. But the white staff was also a very interesting bunch. Many had been student radicals and civil rights activists and they were attracted to Harlem Hospital because they were idealistic and had a strong sense of obligation to make the world a better place. So it was the golden age at Harlem Hospital. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been there at that time.”

Dr. Petite shifted to private practice after starting his family in the 1980s, serving communities in Brooklyn and Queens and working for a period with a group of minority physicians he had trained with at Harlem Hospital. In 2021, he was recruited to the newly opened NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health, Tremont Center of Excellence, to establish a new cardiology service for Gotham Health patients in the Bronx.

After a career spanning more than four decades, Dr. Petite says it was something simple that brought him back to the city’s public health care system, and it’s why he still comes to work every day: “Because I am needed.” It’s a return to his earliest days as a physician.

“I am of a generation that had a burning sense of social consciousness,” he reflects. “The communities we serve are the neglected, forgotten ones, and I continue to be drawn by that mission.”

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