The Society of Black Pathologists (SBP; @SBPathologists) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing barriers to diversity and inclusion, working to increase the number of Black and underrepresented minorities in pathology, providing mentorship to support career and leadership development, and expanding research in the area of healthcare disparities. We reached out to SBP Founding Board Members to learn about the organization’s origin and goals, and to get an inside look at the educational and professional barriers underrepresented minorities face. We are excited and honored to present to you our Q&A with SBP.
Left to right: SBP Founding Members, President Carla L. Ellis, MD, MS, FASCP and Treasurer Nicole R. Jackson, MD, MPH, FASCP
Instapath: What was the catalyst to create SBP?
SBP: The idea of forming an organization to represent the needs of Black pathology and laboratory professionals was brewing, to some degree, among multiple individuals at different institutions and organizations across the U.S. for the past few years. It wasn’t until the early summer of 2020, when more people were connecting via social media, that these lofty ideas coalesced into a unified vision - one of the silver linings of the pandemic!
Several founding members started their careers in other medical specialties that had Black professional organizations and were surprised to find one absent within pathology. The founders, many of whom had never met before, came together and combined our ideas to create the Society of Black Pathologists at a time that coincided with “diversity, equity, and inclusion” being at the forefront of people’s and institutions’ radar. The synergy between us is cumulative and includes those of us still in residency and fellowship while other members, of varied sub specialties, are well-established and heading divisions and departments. Our specialties run the gamut: renal and genitourinary pathology, cytopathology, bone and soft tissue pathology, gynecologic pathology, neuropathology, and forensic pathology.
They recognized a need for an increased presence of their Black professional colleagues and trainees on a national and international level in order to empower the few already there, bolster diverse recruitment, and better serve populations that look like us.
Instapath: Who can become a member?
SBP: We are about the diversity and inclusion of everyone regardless of identity and welcome all to join who align with our mission statement which is “addressing barriers to diversity and inclusion, working to increase the number of Black and underrepresented minorities in pathology, providing mentorship to support career and leadership development, and expanding research in the area of healthcare disparities.” You do not need to be Black to be a member. You do not have to be a pathologist – you can be a clinical laboratory scientist or a trainee, for example. You do not have to be in the U.S. – Society of Black Pathologists is international. And it is absolutely free to any trainee, including medical students, residents, fellows, or anyone in a pathology and laboratory medicine-related training program.
Instapath: How did you narrow it down to the three main goals addressed in the President’s letter?
SBP: We brainstormed and got every idea that we could think of out and on the table for consideration and discussion. We asked ourselves, “In 10, 20, 50 years, what do we see this organization doing? Where do we see ourselves heading? How do we see this lasting?” We decided to start with a small, focused list and trimmed it down to our top three priorities - Outreach, Committee Development and Member Engagement, and Mentorship.
Outreach Pathology and laboratory medicine is a field that has open residency positions every year after the Match is completed. This is the result of a culmination of many things including removing dedicated pathology courses in favor of a more integrated curriculum in the first two years of medical school as well as Pathology not being a required rotation like Internal Medicine, Surgery, etc. Our entire field needs to insert ourselves earlier in the training of these young, bright minds and show what we do and why we love it. Outreach and recruitment need to start early and be diverse. We need to be reaching out and taking more active roles in medical school interest groups, local undergraduate institutions, and grade schools, and the SBP intends to do so. While there are over 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., only four have medical schools and only two have Departments of Pathology. That’s a large pool of talent that has decreased access and exposure to our field and one with which we hope to facilitate lasting connections.
Committee Development and Member Engagement As a new organization representing the needs and interests of a relatively small group of professionals, we need members who are engaged and are invested in seeing the SBP effect much-needed change. We want the SBP to truly become our members’ organization. This means creating a space where our members have a voice in how we grow and expand through the development of different committees and creating new ways to engage our communities. We want their voices to be heard and acted upon - to be valued. Many of our members are the only underrepresented body at their worksite, feeling that they are the only ones fighting certain battles, which creates a feeling of isolation. Isolation is a perfect breeding ground for depression, anxiety, and leaving to search for greener pastures. The truth is, the underrepresented community has many shared struggles, and we strive to create a community where people can share similar struggles and better navigate difficult situations, many of which are centered on race.
Mentorship Throughout our training, many of us found ourselves being the only face that looked like us in the room, if not the entire department, often lacking mentors that looked like us. While you can, and should, have multiple mentors, there is value and comfort in having at least one that relates to and has experienced your unique set of struggles faced by being underrepresented. This includes at times feeling isolated and ignored, which can weigh heavily on your mental health and wellbeing. We have seen others mentored in ways many of us have not experienced, by having access to those later in their careers who help open doors we didn’t even know existed. We want to create easy access for those underrepresented in medicine to those further along in their careers so they can avoid unnecessary missteps, feel empowered and fully capable of fulfilling their dreams and potential, and promote their overall wellbeing.
Instapath: What are some challenges that underrepresented minorities face in education?
SBP: Challenges for underrepresented minorities start early. It starts before medical training. It starts before undergraduate studies. It starts in grade school. In the U.S, predominantly white public school districts collectively receive $23 billion more than predominantly non-white school districts annually. Now, let’s take an underrepresented minority student who goes to a predominantly non-white public school, does well and stands out, and then enrolls in college with dreams of becoming a doctor. Despite doing the best with the resources they had, they find themselves behind peers coming from private or better-funded public schools. They are competing for entry into a medical school system where 50% of their future peers come from homes of the top 20% of earners, often where one or both parents are doctors or lawyers. A gap that continues to grow over the years. They spend the first few semesters playing catch-up. They abandon their pre-med dreams because there is not much leniency in medical school admissions for those who do not make all A’s and post-baccalaureate programs are expensive. This isn’t the only story, but it is a common one heard time and time again. Students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are being compared to students from highly advantaged backgrounds and there need to be adjustments made in admissions committees.
Per the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), as of 2018, approximately 5.0% of active physicians identify as Black, 5.8% as Latino, and 0.3% as Native American. This is in contrast to the US Census that says these groups collectively comprise approximately one-third of the US population. That is a gross underrepresentation. It is very hard to become something you cannot see. This goes for rural students, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students – name the demographic and this holds true. When you keep walking into spaces where no one looks like you and you keep seeing the same trends in who receives recognition and advancement, and it is not people who look like you, you are quietly but constantly being told this is not for you. Sometimes, you are not so quietly told the same thing. Part of SBP’s initiative is to engage young people so they see Black people as leaders in healthcare delivery, so they see someone with curly, kinky hair like theirs who is a doctor and feel more comfortable in their own skin and are empowered to live their best life.
Instapath: How is ASCP providing support and partnership?
SBP: We are considered a companion society of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). As part of their mission to increase DEI efforts, they have helped SBP with some behind-the-scenes aspects of getting a nonprofit organization up and running. They gave us space, a presence, and a voice at their 2021 Annual Meeting - all of which we greatly appreciate.
Instapath: How can people find more information about SBP?
SBP: Our website is the best place to start. Of course, anyone can reach out to any of the board members. Take a look at our membership letter and our welcome message. Get an overview of our committees. We are also on Twitter at @SBPathologists. We would love to have you join us!
Thank you to SBP Founders for this detailed look inside SBP. Check out the SBP resources we’ve linked to in this blog post, and be sure to reach out to SBP with any questions about membership or details about the organization.
Harbuck, S. M., Follmer, A. D., Dill, M. J., & Erickson, C. (2012). AAMC Analysis in Brief. August, 2012(12), 3.