What has affected me most throughout my progression has been that look of doubt in someone’s eyes upon introduction of myself at whatever point I was in my career. That fueled the fire in me to progress and move forward and deny them any doubt of who I am.
You can find all of our previously published Voices from Black Women in Medicine articles here: https://www.instapathbio.com/blog/categories/black-women-in-medicine. Words only go so far and actions speak louder than anything we could possibly say. This is how Voices from Black Women in Medicine was born. The lived experiences of Black women can only be understood when we hear from Black women themselves. And that’s what we set out to do with this series.
Black women make up about 2.6% of all active physicians in the United States. In a room with 100 physicians, you will only see three Black women. Think of what unique and thoughtful perspectives these three women have – the ways in which they care for patients, how they relate to their patients – all of this is unique and cannot be replicated.
Dr. Erin King-Mullins (@EKing719), as you’ll soon meet, is now the tenth Black woman physician we have featured, and we have no plans of slowing down. She is the first physician in a specialty other than pathology we are featuring – this is exciting! Let’s all learn from each other, no matter what specialty we are in. Without further ado, we present to you Dr. Erin King-Mullins.
Dr. Erin King-Mullins graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana. She received her medical degree from Emory University in Atlanta, then completed her internship and residency in general surgery at the Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida. Dr. King-Mullins completed her fellowship in colorectal surgery at Georgia Colon & Rectal Surgical Associates and subsequently joined the practice where she currently serves as Faculty/Research Director for the fellowship program. She has many publications and presentations to her credit. She treats all colorectal conditions. Her special interests are minimally invasive robotic surgery as well as anal cancer screening and prevention in high-risk women. As a trailblazer for diversity, equity and inclusion for the colorectal specialty, she currently serves as the inaugural chairperson for the newly formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
Instapath: When you made it known you were going to pursue medicine, did you face any discrimination or anyone trying to steer you in a different direction?
Dr. King-Mullins: Initially, no. I knew at such an early age (12 years old) that I wanted to be a doctor that I think it would have been taboo to try and steer a child in a different direction. Once I went to Xavier University, I was surrounded by such a community of similarly driven individuals at an institution that literally pumps out future physicians. It wasn't until I was in medical school that I really started getting “the side eye.” Even in middle and high school I surrounded myself with goal-oriented people and crazy enough 3 of us Black women are now physicians. Our high school definitely was not an environment conducive to the success of Black individuals, period. There were very low rates of Black students in the school and they were mostly bussed in from Sanford, FL (where Trayvon Martin was killed).
Instapath: Regarding discrimination you have faced, what words of wisdom do you want to tell Black women in medicine?
Dr. King-Mullins: Really, the discrimination is about the offenders. When you think about it, do they know anything about you to make such a determination? There is no merit to their behavior and it is purely a reflection of their own personal insecurities.
Instapath: Medical school is challenging enough as it is - what additional challenges were you presented with because you are a Black woman?
Dr. King-Mullins: The biggest challenge was not being able to bring my full and true authentic self to the experience, which I think is much more welcomed today than when I was in medical school. Most students in medical school were well off and had more financial and educational support coming in. It was hard for me to discuss the hardships of my background. I didn’t have the experiences that other students shared like golfing and ski trips. The lived experiences of underrepresented persons are invaluable to patient connections and trying to learn/operate through someone else's lens does a disservice to us all.
Instapath: As you have advanced in your education and career, have you been met with different forms of discrimination?
Dr. King-Mullins: What has affected me most throughout my progression has been that look of doubt in someone’s eyes upon introduction of myself at whatever point I was in my career. That fueled the fire in me to progress and move forward and deny them any doubt of who I am. I definitely face discrimination of all kinds: gender, age, race, ethnicity, and it’s regularly unfortunately. This has allowed me to be a knowledgeable, compassionate, forthright and diehard advocate for my patients.
Instapath: Who are your cheerleaders/mentors?
Dr. King-Mullins: I have so many. Right now, my biggest cheerleader is my husband. He has shown me the power and strength I have as a Black woman physician who has succeeded in the face of, what is for some, insurmountable challenges. The biggest challenge was finances. Being able to afford all of the application fees and testing fees, paying for flights and hotel rooms to travel to interviews, purchasing the professional clothing to wear to the interviews - all of these things make it hard to even place you in the room let alone have a seat at the table. However, at every phase of my life I have been fortunate to have people around me who push me. My parents and my siblings have been great motivators. My two best friends and I all motivated each other and we three are all physicians! We have been there for each other since the beginning – being study buddies, sharing tips and tricks and just being there as a sounding board. It was never a competition but rather a team effort to make sure we each knew what was coming and how to overcome it.
Instapath: Black women make up only about 2.6% of all active physicians in the United States. What actions, and by whom, are needed to diversify medicine?
Dr. King-Mullins: This needs to start as early as possible. Little girls need to know their worth and that they can become a physician. Targeted areas in STEM programs and early child education should help drive this interest. As students become interested in medicine, we need support systems in place to show that you can be a physician and have a family. This often steers women away from careers in medicine because they think they cannot be a wife, mother and physician. Medical schools and training programs also need to establish support systems, policies and programs to allow women to start a family while in training. These policies need to be clear, openly available and have lack of retribution should a woman decide to start a family during training.
Instapath: When and why did you choose to pursue medicine and your specialty?
Dr. King-Mullins: I knew when I was 12 I wanted to be a physician. Over time and experience I grew to love the Colorectal specialty. It is what I call the perfect way to practice the Art of Medicine. I establish short- and long-term relationships with patients. I practice preventative medicine, perform small procedures and save lives by removing and curing cancer. I’m a friend and a confidant. I'm a counselor when I have to give an unfortunate diagnosis, or when I have to tell a person that they are going to have a colostomy for the rest of their life. I advocate for them and provide whatever support I can.
Join us in amplifying and elevating the voices of Black women in medicine. Everyone has a platform, even if it’s one’s own voice. And today, voices take shape in many forms – it’s easier and quicker than ever to communicate what matters to you. Share this blog today with a colleague through Facebook, Twitter or email. Here is the link to all blog posts in this series so you can read and amplify: https://www.instapathbio.com/blog/categories/black-women-in-medicine.
If you are a Black woman in medicine and would like to share your story, we want to hear from you. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk. Keep an eye on your Twitter DMs as well as we’ll be reaching out to Black women in medicine from all specialties and career stages.
Instapath was founded in 2017 by the same engineers and scientists who developed the original prototypes. Our vision is to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis instead of waiting days or weeks for the results. Instapath builds microscopy platforms to improve patient care in the form of faster turnaround times and prevention of high risk and costly repeat biopsy procedures. Further, our goal is to provide users with a seamless, modernized digital pathology workflow with tools to complete all pathology evaluations needed to provide the most precise and efficient diagnoses for patients.