While browsing through channels on a restless afternoon, I came across a cartoon of a little Black girl dressed in a doctor’s lab coat, donned with a stethoscope, talking to her stuffed animals as if they were her patients. Intrigued, I watched two episodes, all by my lonesome. I immediately called my niece, who is married with three little girls, and told her excitedly that she had to find this show called Doc McStuffins, and have the girls watch it. “They can see imagery of a Black Female who is a doctor, images that I didn’t get to see when I was a kid.” She laughed. I continued, slightly frustrated, “This is serious, I never saw the picture of a Black Female doctor on television at their age, and could only strive towards a dream that only my mind and family told me was possible. Our doctors were White, older men.” Still finding my progressive excitement comical, she said, “But, Teresa, they don’t need a cartoon to know that they can become doctors, they have you.They know it is possible because, you are their Doc McStuffins.”
Now as the new Residency Program Director of one of the largest emergency medicine residencies in the country, my residents ask me time and time again why I took on this role. Yes I love to teach, and even got my Masters in Medical Education, while working full-time in the emergency department. Yes, I enjoy creating innovative curricula that push our learners to find their own answers to clinical questions using evidence based medicine, social media, popular press, and even more traditional textbooks while working collaboratively with their peers to not only learn, but also teach. I also enjoy teaching patients about their disease, and helping them understand through shared decision-making why certain treatment plans are best. And, of course, I enjoy the lecture circuit, educating regionally, nationally, and even internationally on variety of medical and education topics.
However, one of my main reasons for taking on this job was for the four months of the year, where we interview. I interview for both the college of medicine and the residency. And, it was during recruitment season that I made the overwhelming decision to become the 4th program director of my pretty famous residency program. The image of a young (at least I would like to believe that I can still use that adjective), African American woman as a program director (PD), is one that will stick in every interviewees’ mind, especially those from underrepresented minorities and women. I am Doc McStuffins, and all imagery represents. I make the dream in one young woman or man’s mind to become an emergency medicine doctor a reality. That despite not ever meeting, or rarely even seeing the imagery of a Black physician in the area they grew up innor having family members who were physicians guide them through the application process, they could still be a doctor. Because if she can do it, so can I.
A recent New York Times Magazine article how Norman Francis the former President of Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana for 47 years made it his mission to get underrepresented students into medical school. The author describes the history of minorities in medicine, and how Historically Black Colleges and Universities, my own alma mater Spelman College is cited as an example, as continuing to be the largest producers of minority physicians of all undergraduate campuses in the United States. Despite the years of progress through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are still not producing nearly as many minority physicians to account for the growing minority census of patients.
In a cited article from the AAMC, they discuss the need for more minority physicians to accompany the growing population of patients coming from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They report that 25% of the US population today is from underrepresented backgrounds; yet only 6% of practicing physicians come from this population. They also discuss the benefits of having physicians of color, including cultural competency, likelihood of working in public hospitals serving diverse patient populations post-residency, and patient satisfaction.
If being a Black physician is my reason #1 to take on the PD role, then being female is absolutely my reason #2. In an equally intriguing article from the Huffington Post, Dr. Niamey Wilson, a female surgeon, states “A woman in a male-dominated profession shouldn’t need to assimilate herself into an established culture that isn’t welcoming to women. The culture needs to change from within to become a truly gender-neutral meritocracy.” This can only be true if we have more women not only as physicians, but as leaders in their departments. This is one of my many goals as the first female residency program director at my institution. While our male counterparts can empathize with the demands of being doctor, mother, wife; only a another woman can truly understand and thus make it a priority that their female and male colleagues do not have to choose between work and “Mommy/Daddy guilt.” As Dr. Wilson so candidly describes, we have to change the culture from within by becoming program and department leadership.
Last Halloween, I was enamored by the tons of Facebook post from friends of their children dressed up as different characters. Even more touching the children of different races and genders, who wore their Doc McStuffins customs. The true message I believe of the cartoon character is that being a Black Female physician will be ubiquitous. Gary Marsh, the President and Chief Creative Officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, said it best in the New York Times article in 2012, “What we put on television can change how kids see the world…” I believe that what we represent, as female physicians (particularly during interview season) and as leaders in our residencies, departments, and nationally, can impact not just one doctor, but also a population of physicians and the patient’s they will ultimately treat.
- Hannah-Jones, N. A Prescription for More Black Doctors. The New York Times Magazine, September 9, 2015