A young black physician’s letter to future black doctors

Dear future colleague,

What a tremendous thing it is to know you are becoming a physician!  You are devoting your life and talents to the betterment of the health of your future patients, your local community, and our entire society.  You have responded to the call to serve in a profession that is hundreds of years old, steeped in tradition but vehemently progressive, always changing, and vowing to remain abreast of the latest in knowledge and technological advancement.  It is not a perfect profession, but the field of medicine is striving daily toward perfection in evidence-based care, medical humanism, and collegial thought.

You have questions.  You have answers.  You are apprehensive.  Patients will be and have the same.

My charge to you indeed is to have those questions.  Do have answers for your future patients when asked, and you will.  It is permitted to be slightly apprehensive because apprehension is a mark of a stellar physician.  That physician realizes he or she is human and fears losing a patient’s life just as much as that patient fears losing his own life, and you will work with diligence to prevent loss of life from happening.  Realize, however, that you do not have all the answers.  You don’t know everything.  You never will.  Be confident but not arrogant, despite what your perceptions of our field or a certain sub-specialty may tell you.  Be curious.  Be confident.  Be human.

At the conclusion of writing this exhortation to you, I know there will be something in days ahead that I will feel I forgot to say.  Time and the sure advancement of days will foster that notion.  It is indubitable that you have questioned yourself about devoting your life to presiding over the health care and wellness of others, and that is both necessary and proper.  You’ve also questioned known physicians you may have witnessed practice first-hand by the required means of shadowing or who may be a mentor or family friend.  In so doing, you may have witnessed or heard something from him or her that may threaten to deter you from being a physician.  It happens.  I know.  Do know you are needed.  Do know that you are wanted as a physician.  Hundreds of patients will benefit from seeing you, learning from you, and being cared for by you.  Your life will be rewarded as you become a member of the intelligentsia of the communities in which you practice.  No amount of hopeless vitriol can deter you from achieving your dream — a dream I’m personally living out each and every day.

Remember, when days grow drear and, in your training and practice, the days seem only to be as nights, you are called.  You have been called.  Not everyone is called.  Our people have a strong tradition of excellence in medicine that cannot be washed away, and you, my dear, are a testament to that.  We need you, not only for the sake of formulating a more ethnically diverse physician workforce for a most diverse patient population, but because of the diverse experiences of background and cultural belief you bring to the ethical execution of health care delivery.  Never forget who you are, most of all, as you don the whitest of white coats.  Always remember your origin, because faith in that will sustain you in both good times and in bad.  Be visible.  Be cognizant.  Be there.

Come to this table now, take your seat, and serve with fervor and steadfast foundation.

The truth is your patients desperately need you, and so do I.

Earl Stewart, Jr. is a physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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