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Being Black in a white coat: Reflections of Black physicians

A group of Black Stanford Medicine physicians and alumni discuss what advice they would give to their younger selves.

Last month, a group of Stanford Medicine doctors and alumni gathered to discuss a topic that often flies under the radar: what it's like to be a Black doctor at Stanford Medicine and other academic medical centers.

The group shared candid thoughts, stories and insights into the most rewarding and challenging parts of being an under-represented doctor, and the importance of creating a community in which Black doctors and students can thrive.

During the discussion, Odette Harris, MD, professor of neurosurgery, Carla Pugh, MD, PhD, professor of surgery, and others shared the perspective of an even smaller fraction of the physician population: Black women in medicine.

Harris recalls when she was promoted to professor of neurosurgery. She was the first Black woman to become a neurosurgery professor, as recognized by the Association for American Medical Colleges.

"Every single email and every single letter that came from that, I took it upon myself to answer and to write and to call some of these children," said Harris, the Paralyzed Veterans of America Professorship in Spinal Cord Injury Medicine. "And it was a recognition for me, just how few of us there are and what work we have to do, and what responsibility we have ... to the next generation."

Pugh, who holds The Thomas Krummel Professorship, shared a conversation she had with a colleague. "I don't remember what I was lamenting in the moment [but he said], 'Pugh, you already have the jersey. ... You can either sit on the sidelines and complain that the game ain't fair or you can get out there and take some folks out and get to the end zone.'"

Pugh's words of encouragement to the next generation: Be that trailblazer. "Yes, we're angry that we're still doing trailblazer stuff in 2022, but ... if we don't do it, who else is going to do it?"

After the event, each panelist shared their reflections on a handful of questions, including, "What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?" Below is a video that features their responses.

In addition to Harris and Pugh, other panelists, moderators event organizers were:

  • Terrance Mayes, associate dean for equity and strategic initiatives
  • Adjoa Boateng Evans, MD, clinical assistant professor of anesthesiology, preoperative and pain medicine
  • Iris Gibbs, MD, professor of radiation oncology
  • Carmin Powell, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics
  • Jeffrey Edwards, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine graduate
  • Floriane Ngako Kameni, medical student
  • Matthew Bucknor, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine graduate
  • Alexandria Nicole Tartt, medical student
  • Arokoruba Cheetham-West, medical student

Photo courtesy of Alan Toth

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