The Audacity of Black Women in Health and Medicine: Event Report

“If you could use 3 words to describe what it feels like to be a black woman in health and medicine, what would they be?” moderator Sarah Kashef asked panelists on Thursday October 11, 2018 at Howard University. This question sparked an outpouring of answers from panelists. empowering, necessary, needed, wanted, underrepresented, underpaid, lonely, fierce. The panel titled the Audacity of Black Women in Health and Medicine was hosted by Howard’s GlobeMed chapter and the ANUPAS. The panelists, accomplished black women at various stages of their careers, spent the evening answering questions for the 30 students in the audience. Students ranged from sophomores trying to select their majors, to juniors looking cement their career paths in medicine and nursing.

Dr. Lauren Payne, MD, MS, FAAD, spoke about the importance of increasing diversity in the health workforce as it pertains to black male medical providers. She cited a 2016 Association of American Medical College which found that the number of black men that applied to medical school have remained stagnant for nearly 40 years. Dr. Payne also emphasized how more black female medical doctors are needed to work with their male counterparts, and remove the barriers which continue to deter black men from pursuing medical education.

Lanice Williams, MS,CHES talked about the importance of traveling outside the United States. Her experience in studying Cuba’s health system shifted her perspective. She applied her experience while working in Latin America and the Caribbean, explaining how this experience shaped the way she approaches her work in Global Health. She also discussed how important it is for students to study abroad and volunteer in various communities and countries. These experiences provide individuals who are working on programs within the medical field a strong understanding of working with diverse communities and tackling the various barriers they face around health.

Temi Ifafore-Calfee, MPH, PMP, emphasized the importance of self-care, especially with regards to one’s mental health throughout the journey. When talking about black women as health administrators and hospital executives, she emphasized the importance of women serving as gatekeepers. Though few people know about hospital administration as a potential career path, there are options in health care for every interest from Informatics to urban planning. She encouraged students to look at job vacancies at the nearby hospitals to get a sense of the range of things one could do beyond being a medical practitioner.

Dr. Gina Brown, PHD, MSA, RN teaches and mentors students at Howard. She talked about the importance of having doctors that represent diversity. She stated that one of the biggest challenges for healthcare and medicine is that shortage of black men pursuing medicine, citing that there has been a steady decline since the 1970s in black men entering the profession. She stated how important diversity is, especially for people in rural areas to see practitioners of color. Over her career, she has learned two things: 1. To rely on faith and 2. Not be afraid to roll up her sleeves and do whatever it takes to get work done—even menial tasks.

Lt. Colonel Shelrethia Battle-Siatita, DDS, MS, FAGD, ABGD – is the only female periodontist in the Air Force. She cautioned that medicine can be a long and expensive path. She talked about the importance of being efficient and not wasting time when pursuing medicine. Her advice to young black female pre-health and pre-med students: find someone doing what they want to do. Instead of reinventing the path, follow exactly what this person did. This would provide a shortcut to jumpstarting one’s career. For her, the Air Force provided a wonderful path to becoming a dental surgeon. The Air Force covered two years of medical school and a portion of her residency.

Dr. Patience Nnenna Ekperi, DO is a family medicine doctor, who spoke about the importance of having women in medicine pursue a path in medicine that looks holistically at the body. For this reason, she pursued a doctor of osteopathy (DO) instead of an MD. She emphasized that as she practices medicine and sees patients, it is important to go back to the basics. She ensures that people understand the terminology that she uses, such as hypertension and high blood pressure are the same condition. Using this approach, she has been able to build trust with her patients, who have revealed pertinent information to her that they did not reveal to other clinicians. To aspiring clinicians, she advised that people be entirely committed and sure about going through with medicine, especially in the face of those that doubt black women’s abilities “you’ve got to know, that you know, that you know.”

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