Part two: What it’s like to be Black and a doctor in white America
In a previous article, Dr. Iesha Galloway-Gilliam shared her experience of being Black and a doctor. This week, Dr. Elizabeth Alabi shares her story.
What kinds of challenges did you experience while pursuing your career in medicine and how did you overcome them?
My parents are first generation immigrants so that brought its own set of challenges. You learn initiative and self-reliance early and know you have to knock those doors down on your own.
What is it like to be Black and a doctor in white America?
I think being a doctor regardless of race is quite the privilege. As an OB-GYN we have the unique opportunity to help people make life-changing decisions at crucial periods of their lives. That being said, there is an additional weight of responsibility that you carry as a Black doctor in white America. It can be challenging and emotionally draining at times. Regardless, I love what I do.
What would make your experience better?
Having more community resources. Increased diversity within hospital leadership. Increased diversity among providers and nursing staff.
How have things changed or improved for Black physicians in medicine during your career?
Hmm, tough question. I haven’t been doing this for that long. 😅 I will say that I feel like there’s been a definite mind shift since the murder of George Floyd. Yes, patients need to be accountable but it feels like for the first time, the medical community is really acknowledging that we also have a hand in the pot when it comes to inequities in healthcare. Also, there’s more of a push to educate students about some of the racist origins of medicine and how they still affect how we practice to this day.
Why is diversity in medicine important?
Because it actually matters, and there is a lot of research to back that up. Unfortunately, we’re still at a point in society where Black moms and their infants are less likely to die when they see someone who is racially congruent.
How do you help your colleagues overcome biases in caring for patients who do not look like them?
By continuing to be a squeaky wheel. Ultimately, it’s not my responsibility to educate my colleagues. That being said, I am strong on patient education and empowering them along their healthcare journey. My patients know that being able to ask questions that are met with thoughtful answers is a right. If they don’t feel heard, they need to know they have options, sometimes their lives depend on it. I would also encourage whomever is reading this to start seeing color. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t see. We all have biases, being aware is the first step.
How do you advocate for patients of color when you see visible signs of bias based on race or culture?
I’m not afraid to call out the nonsense when I see it, but I teach my patients how to advocate for themselves. To be frank, there’s not that many of us (black providers) so I hope that more and more providers start to feel that same sense of responsibility and obligation to provide the highest level of care to each and every patient they interact with.
What in your opinion can be done to diminish inequity in healthcare?
All of the above I’ve mentioned.
Do you have to justify and explain your rationale in your approach to care and if so, how does that make you feel and what do you feel can be done to garner an equal level of professional respect as a Black doctor?
I don’t ever feel the need to justify or explain my rationale for care, however, there are plenty of times when I feel my opinion is completely overlooked or not heard. I think the question should be why I’m even asked what needs to be done to garner the same level of respect as my colleagues in the first place. I think the question should be directed to those who don’t look like me.
Thanks for sharing, Dr. Alabi.