Welcome to the fifth 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 part two, part three and part four. 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.
We’d like to introduce you to our guest blogger, Dr. Greta Evaristo. Dr. Evaristo is a PGY4 resident in Anatomical Pathology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She is also on the CAP Digital & Computational Pathology Committee. This is her story.
My road through medical education as a Black woman has been often challenging, at times discouraging and, most importantly, almost always lonely. I was the only Black student in my advanced high school program, during my collegial studies in sciences and while obtaining my undergraduate degree. I briefly shared the title with three other women in my medical school class, quickly reclaiming it in residency. It is consequently not all that surprising, I suppose, that people are not accustomed to expecting someone of my complexion to enter the door as they are waiting to see their physician. It might be why, I suppose, the patients and health care professionals alike tend to assume I am a technician or a nurse – all great professions, just not mine – instead of allowing for the possibility that I have had the interest, the intellectual ability, the financial context and the social support to obtain a medical doctorate. Although devastating, the instances where my competence was outright questioned were relatively rare. However, the continuous surprised reactions, seemingly harmless comments or unintentionally inappropriate questions, they accumulate, they weigh on you, they fertilize the soil for the imposter syndrome one seed at a time.
The truth is the road through medical education is challenging enough as it is, and compounding the fight to survive medicine with the constant fight to prove that you even belong in medicine to begin with is an additional psychologic and emotional burden that is often underestimated. And this fight does feel lonesome, because your classmates, your supervising residents and your attendings more often than not do not look like you and consequently do not face the unique challenges surrounding your specific ethnicity and gender.
The turning point for myself came as I was asked by one of my medical students to take part in a panel discussion on inspiring a new generation of Black healthcare professionals. It’s as I sat there, a tiny second year resident surrounded by accomplished physicians, physiotherapists-entrepreneurs and trailblazing nurse practitioners, and as I listened to all these wonderful talented Black professionals recounting stories of being politely undermined, harmlessly underestimated, accidentally misjudged or simply discriminated against, stories that could have been my own, that’s when I finally realized I was not walking this road alone. This realization, of course, by no means solves the underlying issue. But I do believe that reaching out and connecting with those that share similar experiences can be therapeutic. It reminds you that you are not alone. It reminds you that none of these experiences will preclude you from succeeding. I also believe that sharing these stories can be educational, within our communities and beyond them, as luckily for me I work in an environment where my colleagues are eager to learn. And most importantly, I believe that sharing these stories is critical to inspire the next generation, to show them their possibilities if no one around them can, to guide them through roads that we’ve already crossed and to remind them that, however challenging, these roads lead to success.
There is quite a lot of work to be accomplished, both in medicine as whole and in my own specialty. It will require a lot of commitment, within and outside of our communities. It will require a lot of dedication to work with young Black students in our neighborhoods, in our universities, in our Twitter communities. But if this means even a single additional success story, it’s a commitment I am willing to make.
We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to Dr. Evaristo for talking with us. 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.