Welcome to the eighth post in our series Voices from #BlackWomenInMedicine. To learn more about our mission to support Black women in medicine, we encourage you to read our first blog post in the series as well as parts two through seven which can be found on our News page. Black female doctors represent only 2% of physicians.1 It is our hope that by sharing stories, perspectives and wisdom from this 2%, we will inspire change so that underrepresented minorities are presented with ample opportunities to follow in their footsteps of making medicine their career. We also hope this blog series brings an invigorated appreciation for Black female physicians who have made it their lives’ work to improve the health of others, regardless of race. #PathTwitter has a unique and strong presence on the web, and we hope you will take the opportunity to share this blog post and amplify these voices while reflecting on how you can bring equality to medicine.
Meet Ashley Crosby (@DrAshleyCrosby). She is a graduating 4th year medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And…she just matched into the Wake Forest pathology program! She is a member of Student National Medical Association, Minority Women in Medicine, Medical Mentors, and Bloomer Hill Clinic, which provides free healthcare to underserved communities in rural, eastern North Carolina. Awards and recognition include the Zollicoffer-Cross Community Health Fellowship, Henderson Post-Sophomore Fellowship and Loyalty Fund Scholar.
Q. How did you decide on pathology as your career?
A. Pathology was an easy decision for me, since what drew me to medicine throughout middle and high school was an enthusiasm for gross anatomy. I had the amazing opportunity to teach anatomy and microbiology to premedical and predental students through the Medical Education Development program during the summer after my first year in medical school. My background in basic science research also steered me toward a career in which I could be a laboratory expert and diagnostician. I fell in love with the field during my first pathology rotation in hematopathology. My post-sophomore fellowship experience only deepened my understanding of the role of the pathologist and my commitment to the field. I am excited to see where residency will take me!
Q. Did anyone try to dissuade you from pursuing medicine, or try to steer you in a different direction?
A. I have been incredibly fortunate that most have been supportive of my decision to pursue medicine. As a first-generation medical student, the challenges I had early on lied in finding the resources and mentorship that could bring me to my goal. In fact, I did not know what applying to medical school even looked like until the summer before my senior year of college, when I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Medical Education Development program at UNC.
Q. In what academic spaces have you been the only Black female?
A. I think the only way to answer this question would be to say most if not all! I would first agree with both of these pathologists – imposter syndrome is definitely real and there’s also greater pressure to perform.
In my research lab, I was the only black woman. My medical school class is very diverse; but during my third-year clinical rotations in Asheville, NC, I was the only black woman in the class of about 25.
As the only black face in many circles that I walk in, it leaves a constant question in my mind about why I could be treated differently and whether to speak up about certain things. As an example, an attending may be objectively harder on me than certain peers, but I am reluctant to appear confrontational or not a team player. The subjective nature of our evaluations can leave black students vulnerable to bias. When one person is praised for confidence and leadership, another is critiqued for “not waiting for direction” or being domineering. This certainly creates a challenging learning environment.
Q. Right now in the short term, what can all physicians do to bring equality to medicine?
A. The first step is to become aware of our own unconscious biases. There are a number of resources out there to get the ball rolling on this. Examples include the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji and the various implicit association tests like the one from Harvard (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/indexrk.htm). All physicians should be advocates for their patients and their communities but should also be advocates for their peers and trainees as well. This will mean using their voices and their platforms to amplify the voices that may not be heard. We need to look for targeted solutions that are readily available right now. Members of academia can look to their minoritized students and peers to address what they need in a genuine, intentional way. In short- ask what people need! Academic spaces especially need an anonymous forum to receive feedback about the training environment.
Q. In the long term, what needs to happen and who is responsible for taking these actions to bring equality to medicine?
A. Change needs to happen at the level of leadership to create a new culture of medicine. Institutions need to evaluate their work environment, and then identify and address the barriers that prevent minoritized individuals from getting into their spaces (getting into medical school, residency programs, promotions and tenure). This may seem like a monumental task, which it is, but there are national organizations already doing this work. Academic leadership should partner with organizations like MAPS (Minority Association of Pre-medical Students), SNMA (Student National Medical Association), NMA (National Medical Association), and others. It is important to demonstrate meaningful efforts to amplify these members and their initiatives.
Q. What are your ideas for inspiring and bringing opportunities to the next generation of Black female physicians who are still kids or young teens?
A. I am a strong believer in pipeline programs, because I would not be where I am today without these early exposure programs. I am excited to hear about the emphasis on STEM programs for women, but these programs need to be accessible to young black women as well. Representation absolutely matters, and as a black woman in medicine I am happy to mentor anyone who needs encouragement in any way. I plan to be visible and accessible throughout my career.
Q. What would you say to a young Black girl who wants to become a doctor but doesn't think it's possible for her?
A. I would say that it is absolutely possible to become a doctor! I would not have thought that I could get this far, but with the right resources and support it is possible. It will not be an easy journey - that should be clear. However, the most important thing is to find the right mentors who can help to develop a strategy to get the grades, experiences, and funding necessary to get into medical school. Last, I would tell her to call me!
Q. There is the famous quote "You can't be what you can't see" by Marian Wright Edelman. How do we get more Black women in medicine when young Black students don't see themselves reflected in medicine?
A. That is a tough question. We need academic medicine to be a safe, welcoming space for black students and trainees such that we will want to stay to teach and mentor. It is disheartening to hear these stories of the racism and punitive measures that are enforced against black women in medicine especially. It shouldn’t take an act of pioneering to break into these mostly white, mostly male spaces for the sake of representation and recruitment of others, while risking one’s emotional wellbeing, job security, or even personal safety. Diversity work needs to start from the top down, at the level of the institution, while allies and organizations work to make learning and working in medicine more inclusive. I encourage black women in medicine to make themselves available as a lifeline to one another.
Q. What final thoughts would you like to share that are important for others to hear?
A. I want to leave with this - that diversity work is work and should not be free or assumed from your minoritized colleagues. While I know many of us are happy to be involved in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) projects, this is additional work on top of our already demanding schedules and should be recognized as such.
We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to soon-to-be Dr. Ashley Crosby for sharing her insight. To other Black women in medicine, we’d like to share your story in our Voices from #BlackWomenInMedicine series. Please email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Twitter at @instapathbio. Stay tuned as we continue this series in the coming weeks.
Built on the vision of better patient outcomes, Instapath was founded in 2017 by engineers and scientists to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis. Our team made it our mission to develop fast and easy digital pathology technology so diagnosis can be made in minutes instead of days. To learn more about Instapath and our technology, visit https://instapathbio.com or contact us at email@example.com.