“There is an absolute deficit of Black males going into medicine. We need to take a harder look at what it is that is keeping our youth from whatever their destiny says they need to be pursuing,” said Dr. Owusu-Akyaw, second year orthopedic resident at Duke University.
Akyaw, is part of a recently launched campaign, Black Men in White Coats, aimed at increasing the number of Black males who pursue careers as doctors. Author and MD, Dr. Dale Okorodudu founded DiverseMedicine Inc. in 2011, subsequently launching the BMIWC campaign in 2013 along with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, on February 1. BMIWC intends to complete its mission through “exposure, inspiration, and mentoring,” said campaign representatives.
“In 2013, the Association of American Medical Colleges released an alarming report informing the nation that the already low number of black men applicants to medical school was decreasing,” they said.
“This was a wakeup call! A call to action! Since then, the mission has been underway!”
Dr. Olawale Amubieya and Dr. Stanley Frencher, both practicing in Los Angeles, have also joined the campaign.
“We need physicians from these various communities because we are the ones who are going to go back [to them] and practice medicine,” Frencher said.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken care of patients from the clinic who have told me, ‘you know, I’m really glad to see brothers like you who are doctors here in this hospital.’”
Frencher, a urologist at Martin Luther King Community Hospital in South L. A., said doctors like him have to “figure out a way to give back and be an example” to those coming behind them.
“One point three million people live in South Los Angeles,” he said.
“When I came here, there were four urologists. In large part it is still one of the most challenged communities in all of California. Being a urologist who’s willing to practice here makes all the difference… I thought I was going to be a physician since I was about five and that’s because of my dad. He still a primary care physician in Detroit and he’s been taking care of patients regardless of their ability to pay ever since I can remember. I didn’t see becoming a doctor as unattainable.
I just saw it as something my dad did for a living. I was fortunate to be surrounded by Black men who all became doctors. My uncle was a pediatrician. I thought it was the norm. Now, I realize how much of an anomaly it was.”
Fellow BMIWC member, Dr. Amubieya hopes the campaign will help to alleviate some the fears and belief systems that help to create that anomaly.
“I feel like there are so few African American males in medicine because we just don’t see ourselves,” he said.
“If you don’t see your dream, it’s hard for you to imagine it.”
Amubieya’s parents immigrated from Nigeria in search of a better education and life. They passed that desire down to Amubieya and his siblings, leading him to undergrad at Yale University and onto the Colombia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is the first doctor in his family, he said, and credits that to encouragement from his community and an instilled self-confidence.
“My childhood church was doing this pageant of careers and we were signing up for different roles and they asked what I wanted to do and I said, ‘I’ll be a doctor,’” Amubieya explained during the documentary.
“Everybody in my church started to call me doctor. They didn’t call me by my first name anymore.
“Even though I’d never seen anyone like me do it, when I went to my church, they said ‘there’s the doctor right there,’ and I said, ‘okay, here’s the doctor right here.’” In high school, getting the grades that I was getting and doing the things that I was doing, that goal seemed tangible.
“We didn’t come from money but the combination of very generous need based scholarships and hustling for any merit based scholarship I could apply for and get, helped to make it happen.”
He also discourages fear.
“You get [to med school] and you realize, ‘these are just people,’” he said.
“I got into class and put my mind to it and I was every bit as capable as the guy next to me…”
No matter where future Black doctors are coming from Amubieya, Frencher and the rest of the BMIWC members encourage them to actively pursue their dreams and to keep in mind that there is plenty of help along the way.
“For a young person of color who is thinking about medicine and who has no people in their community who are doing it, no resources… no matter where you came from, this is a real possibility,” Amubieya said.
“There are people all over the country just like me who are itching to help you. Search online, go to your local hospital and ask if there’s anyone you can shadow and you’ll find us because we want you. We want you doing what we’re doing so that you can help the next person who looks like you to do it too…”