Deborah Ann Turner, MD, was inspired to a career in medicine by her sister, who was a registered nurse and often brought her to visit the hospital where she worked. By the time Dr. Turner was in middle school, it had become her mission to attend medical school. Having achieved her Bachelor of Science in zoology, chemistry, and psychology at Iowa State University, she went on to complete a Doctor of Medicine and an obstetrics-gynecology residency at the University of Iowa and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Turner then began her career as a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center in Iowa.
As Dr. Turner excelled in medical education and patient care, she spent 35 years in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. In 2007, she achieved a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Drake University in order to increase her understanding of how policy affects education and health care. During the course of her career, she held various positions with the MercyOne North Iowa Cancer Center; Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, Iowa; the Medical College of Wisconsin; her alma mater, the University of Iowa; and the University of Nebraska. During her time in higher education, Dr. Turner also held a position on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.
In 2011, Dr. Turner decided to pursue her passion for protecting voters’ rights and joined the League of Women Voters of Iowa as the state vice president, a position she held until 2015. Concurrently, she served as the president of the Des Moines Metropolitan League. Promoted to the position of president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa in 2015, Dr. Turner joined the national board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States in 2016. That same year, she joined Planned Parenthood North Central States, where she continued to thrive as the associate medical director. In June 2020, she was elected as the 20th president of the League of Women Voters of the United States at the 54th National Convention of the League of Women Voters. Dr. Turner served in this position until June 2022.
Alongside her primary career responsibilities, Dr. Turner spent a considerable amount of time with The Outreach Program nonprofit organization and helped to provide food, safe water, education and medical care to people in need around the world. She served as the vice president of a variety of international and medical programs, including 12 medical missions to Tanzania between 2010 and 2019 where she worked with the Singida Tumaini Health Center and volunteered with both the Manyoni Children’s Center and the Singida Children’s Center. Dr. Turner also donated her time to Rotary International.
Recognized for many years of accomplishments, Dr. Turner was the recipient of a number of honors and accolades. Inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013, she later received the Gertrude E. Rush Award from the National Bar Association in 2015 and the Louise Rosenfield Noun Visionary Award from the Young Women’s Resource Center in Des Moines in 2018. Above these awards, she considered the highlight of her career to be the National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award that she received from the Schwartz Center. This was particularly meaningful because the only way to be nominated for the award was if a patient was impacted enough by a doctor’s care to seek out the award and send in a letter of recommendation. Dr. Turner was incredibly touched that someone she had helped felt it was important enough to complete the nomination procedure.
Throughout all the various roles she held in medicine and in the political sphere, Dr. Turner focused most on having meaningful effects on people’s lives. She attributed much of her success to her parents, Maybelle and Willie Clarence Turner, and recalled how her mother encouraged her to be independent and that her father would say that life is about meeting people, and there are no strangers, just people you haven’t met yet. Dr. Turner always hoped to leave a legacy as a collaborative leader who truly believed in her work and would advise young and aspiring professionals to let themselves feel, cultivate the feelings they want to define them, and, above all, be patient and keep going. By all accounts, she succeeded.