In honor of Black History Month: Thank you to all the doctors breaking boundaries

In honor of Black History Month, I wrote this article to say thank you to all the wonderful black doctors breaking boundaries and exploring careers that would have been unattainable to black people in late 1800 and even early 1900 America. To all the black doctors, your representation in medicine matters a lot.

I am a third-year black female medical student, and I recently completed my pediatrics rotation. A few weeks ago, I was working in the pediatrics outpatient clinic, and an African American woman came in with her son for his yearly “well-child visit.” As usual, I reviewed the well-child algorithm/questionnaire with her. The algorithm includes questions about the child’s psychosocial wellbeing, developmental milestones, vaccinations, to mention but a few. The lady mentioned that her son hadn’t received the flu vaccine because she doesn’t trust/like vaccines. I finished the encounter and presented my findings to the attending physician. The attending came into the room, spoke to the lady, and tried to convince her to get the vaccines. He educated her on the importance, long term benefits of vaccines, and the risks of being unvaccinated, but the lady was very hesitant.

During the consultation, the attending was called by another person, so he left the room. The woman looked at me and asked, “Honestly, what do you think about vaccines? I want your opinion.”

I expressed my views on vaccinations and to put it simply, I told her that I thought it was wise to get her son vaccinated. She nodded in agreement with me. A few minutes later, the attending returned to the room, and the woman said, “I’m going to get my son vaccinated.” He was surprised by her sudden change of mind and was pleased about her decision.

As I was reflecting on this encounter, I came to the realization that the representation of all races, ethnicities, genders in the health field matter a lot. I’m pretty sure this woman didn’t finally decide to vaccinate her child because she thought that I was smarter than the attending. No one can compare the knowledge and experience of an attending physician to that of a third-year medical student. Also, my views on vaccination were not different from those of the attending. In my opinion, she heeded my advice because she felt a sense of comfort and familiarity around me. She saw me as a fellow black lady, a sister, and automatically assumed that I would want the best for her child. I understand and appreciate her actions because I feel the same when I see other black female doctors around the hospital. I presume that they are my folks/sisters/family, and I always feel a sense of belonging around them.

So, to my fellow black men and women who are defying the odds, and weaving your paths into places of influence, thank you! Your presence in those places matter.

Abena Oduro is a medical student. 

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