At the age of 8, Ebony Hilton told her mother she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. From that moment on, her mother called her Dr. Hilton.

At first, it just seemed to be something that caused Ebony and her two sisters to giggle. But her mother's intentions were far wiser than that. She was validating her middle child with an understanding that if she really wanted something, she needed to believe it was possible. Ebony never ventured far from that desire.

After graduating from Spartanburg High in 2000, she took her dreams and desires to the College of Charleston. She also took with her a quote from her mom that she had heard often, "The more you know, the further you'll go."

Ebony was only going 200 miles, but fueled by her mother's urging and wisdom, she was about to journey to an unknown world.

I'd say Ebony Hilton made the most of her four years at the college. In 2004, she graduated magna cum laude with bachelor's degrees in biochemistry, molecular biology and inorganic chemistry.

Her mother encouraged her to learn as much as she could, but c'mon already!

Is the doctor in?

Ebony entered MUSC and graduated in 2008. She still wanted to be a doctor, but given her resume and her grades, there were quite a few options. Initially, pursuing obstetrics or pediatric cardiology were possibilities.

During her four-year residency, Ebony's eventual destination would crystallize.

It was while watching a woman during childbirth suffer a seizure that she saw an anesthesiologist come into the room and restore calmness and order. From that moment, she wanted to be "that" doctor.

Later, she decided to specialize in critical care, which means she spends most of her time in the intensive care unit or the emergency room.

Through it all, it's her mom's example that provides her impetus to serve and succeed. A mom that raised three girls with no father around. A mom who worked the swing shift at the Michelin plant while still serving as PTA president.

Ebony says she was the middle child, caught between a beautiful, smart older sibling who is now an accountant and a younger sister who was funny, a talented singer and now a teacher.

Ebony was the shy, skinny, curious child wearing oversize glasses. But every birthday card was addressed to Dr. Hilton.

Out of Africa

Ebony was raised in a rural, humble area of Spartanburg often referred to as "little Africa." Most people who lived around her were poor and from single-parent homes.

Anybody coming out of her situation could have easily been labeled high-risk. But that would be short-changing the mother who raised these Hilton girls.

Ebony Hilton, 31, was hired by MUSC last year as the first African-American female physician anesthesiologist. She was surprised to hear she was the first and doesn't want to be the last.

In a few weeks, she will head to Tanzania to teach some African students some of what she knows regarding pain management and keeping patients safe and comfortable during surgery. That will be quite a road trip from "little Africa" in rural Spartanburg.

She's certain to explain some of what she's seen and a bit more of what she gained from her considerable education.

Let's see, if you're keeping score: that's 26 years of school, eight graduations and seven degrees. But the greatest advice she's likely to give those students and others she encounters as she begins this career? That's easy: "The more you know, the further you'll go."

Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or