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Feb 01, 2017

Dr. Carol Penn: Dreamer, Dancer, Doctor, Doer

By Lori Draz

Dr. Carol A. Penn, DO, MA, FACCE, is a bright, beautiful woman with a strong body, a smooth measured voice, and an attentive and focused nature that draws you. It is easy to sense the wisdom of generations in her. Dr. Penn is board certified in Family Medicine and Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, but that’s not the amazing part. She most recently served as the Acting Medical Director for Quality Community Health Care in Philadelphia, and is currently a staff physician with Ocean Health Initiatives in Lakewood and staff physician with Medimorphosis Medical Weight Loss. She has earned numerous professional accomplishments, certifications, and honors in her medical profession.

Now here is the amazing part. Dr. Penn entered medical school after the age of 40. At a time when many of her friends, family, and even she thought “maybe this is too big a dream and too much work,” she said, “I’m in.” She calmly states, “One day I will be 60. Do I want to be 60 living my dream, or at least knowing I did all I could to make it come true, or do I want to let fear win? I took the challenge.”

Even more interesting is how Dr. Penn came to make this mid-life decision. Prior to her medical career, she had a whole other very accomplished life as an award-winning choreographer. She trained with the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she was a performing artist and an educator. In the company’s acclaimed Children’s School, she applied her passion for healing, working with Ailey’s Visually Impaired Program for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She received her BS in Dance Education and MA in Humanities from New York University.

Building on that training, Dr. Penn was selected from a national pool of applicants to become a teaching fellow at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. While there, she formed her award-winning company Pennvisions and The New Visions Dance Theater. She became tenured faculty in the D.C. public schools and served as an international consultant for the Kennedy Center’s Very Special Arts Program. Her passion for dance and movement is still alive. Dr. Penn is co-founder and director of The Core of Fire, an interfaith women’s dance ensemble that performs at numerous area churches.

She is quick to acknowledge her family as her inspiration for living a life that pushes and breaks boundaries. “I was a very quiet, curious, and physically active child who started dancing at an early age. But my spirit was nurtured in my home. I was surrounded by storytellers, including both sets of grandparents who shared our family history.” They were bold stories. Her grandmother, Marion Joshephine, was put to work in the cotton fields in the sharecropping south at the age of four. Both of Marion’s parents died when she was just nine. Her brothers and sisters were going to be broken up to live with extended families, but young Marion had another plan. She walked alone through the night to bring her brother John home and gave him half her food to keep him fed. Marion was very smart, and saved her money with the goal of moving north to pursue a life of freedom, entry into the middle class, and homeownership. In fact, in 1928, her grandparents built the first home ever owned by African-Americans on the east side of Red Bank. Tragically, the home was burned down by the Klu Klux Klan, but the family rebuilt it, and this is the home where Dr. Penn was conceived and where she lives today with her husband, Diem.

“These people accomplished so much,” she explains. “They couldn’t get loans, so they paid for the house in cash. They overcame segregation, suspicion, anger, lack of education, and applied hard work, focus, and determination to create a life they wanted. Surely, we can all use those same skills. Don’t put an electric fence around the greatness of your own life. So often, the person getting in our way is ourself. I almost talked myself out of going to medical school. I said, ‘You’ve gone through a challenging divorce, you’re a mom, you’re too old,’ but I still said, ‘Let me see where I can allow my imagination to take me.’ I always wanted to explore mind body medicine, and I decided I would not keep myself from that opportunity.”

Dr. Penn is deeply involved in the spirituality of healing. She is a specialist in Integrative Family Practice Medicine, with a focus on mind body medicine, arts medicine, and nutrition medicine, with an emphasis on prevention and wellness to optimize human potential. She also has a strong interest in integrative approaches to palliative care medicine and is a published researcher in End of Life Care and Mind Body Medicine. Equally passionate about holistic birthing practices, she served on the board of directors and executive committee of Lamaze International for 12 years and continues to teach prepared childbirth education classes to encourage and support families from the beginning of life.

“The soul is of divine origin,” she says. “Often, women feel challenged by their self-esteem. I think a great place to start a journey to wellness, self-understanding and acceptance, and goal-setting is the meditative processes, of which there are many. Finding your path and visiting it often will change your whole mentality.” To introduce methods of meditation, Dr. Penn hosts free meditation seminars, with the next two scheduled for March 5 and May 21. All are welcome, though reservations are encouraged, so call (732) 842-3932 for your spot.

The Red Bank Regional Buc Backer Foundation recently notified Dr. Penn of her induction into the Red Bank Regional High School Alumni Hall of Fame, which will take place April 28.

She is a compelling speaker who is more than happy to address groups and/or to arrange performances by her Core of Fire dance troupe. Living one’s life as if it is a masterpiece and a work of art is a message that she extends to her patients, her students, and her audiences. To contact Dr. Penn, email