Black Prospective Physicians Speak On Inclusion Issues In Medical Field​

Published by Fiifi Frimpong on

Black prospective physicians speak on inclusion issues in medical field

Throughout the winter months, Jasmine Gentry spent most of her time interviewing with different medical residency programs for a spot to begin her three-year residency training. In normal times, Gentry would be flying across the country, staying at various hotels and meeting with medical committees. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Gentry to speak with committees on Zoom instead of meeting in-person.  Instead, she is forced to meet with them on Zoom in her Atlanta home due to the coronavirus pandemic, making it unsafe to have in-person meetings. 

Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Gentry finds herself in a position most women, like herself, are not in.

Jasmine Gentry participating in healthcare workers for BLM last June in Atlanta, GA.
Judith Kim | Avant-Youth

Gentry is a 28-year-old Black woman on her way to becoming a physician, entering a field that is not filled with many Black people – especially Black women. The problem causing the lack of inclusion, she says, is one that is not straightforward.

“I think it is a multifactorial issue,” says Gentry.

Black physicians are underrepresented in medicine. They only account for 5% of the 918,547 physicians in America, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges

Black female doctors represent only 2%, according to athenahealth.

Gentry, who currently studies at Morehouse School of Medicine, says she hears the rhetoric that most women would rather become nurses instead of doctors. The numbers stating that Blacks account for 5% of the roughly 900,000 physicians in America may support this claim, but multiple factors are responsible for the outcome Gentry says. 

“I think that to go into this field, it requires you to have a lot of discipline and understanding of delayed gratification compared to other fields,” says Gentry.

She added that many of her peers initially planned to enroll and graduate from a pre-med program, but contemplated whether the rigorous curriculum and debt would be worth it.

Medical school tuition is expensive, which leaves many students with no choice but to pay for their education with loans. The average private school tuition for in-state students costs $60,719, which is slightly cheaper than the average $62,289 tuition that out-of-state students pay for private school, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The association also reported the average public school tuition for in-state students costs $37,611, while out-of-state student tuition costs $61,916.

Gentry says the high costs of medical school forced many of her friends to attend nursing school. That option also gave some of them the opportunity to work and make money right after getting their bachelor’s degree. 

Choosing nursing school means students will not have to endure all the necessary fees that are not included in tuition costs. 

Most prospective medical students submit their applications through the American Medical College Application Service. The service requires a $170 fee for the first school students apply to and charges another $41 for each additional application. The average applicant applied to 16 schools in 2018-2019, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

Before attending medical school, prospective students are required to take the Medical College Admission Test, better known as the MCAT

The initial registration for the exam costs $320, which also covers the score distribution to different schools. The $320 does not cover any exam prep, books or review courses needed to prepare for the standardized test.

Usually medical students interviewing for their residency would be traveling to different cities and interviewing with committees. Those costs, which are all paid out-of-pocket, include food, flights, hotels and business professional attire.

Gentry says Black students’ lack of familiarity with other Black licensed physicians play a role too. 

Not only does the lack of familiarity not attract Black students, but the process is a bit more challenging because they enter programs without knowing how grueling it is. 

“A lot of us have no real concept of what medicine is,” Gentry says.

She says her peers with physicians in their families have a good grasp and understanding of what it is like to be a doctor, unlike her and some of her Black peers. 

“I think that message does not get relayed to African-American students who do not have physicians,” she says. “I did not know what the hell I was getting myself into until my first job outside of college when I worked in the emergency department.” 

Clare, who is a fourth-year student at Morehouse School of Medicine, says she signed up for volunteer positions before undergrad to get the experience of working in a hospital. The 25-year-old wished to keep her last name undisclosed.

Clare outside of Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

“I think, especially at my undergrad being one of the few Black people trying to get into med school, I didn’t really have those connections,” says Clare. “I felt like I was doing things on my own because I did not have people to look to that were doing the same thing.”

Clare added that it is in prospective Black medical students’ best interests to build their resumes during their undergrad years. Idehen says getting shadowing licensed doctors helps prepare students too. 

Gentry says she would recommend Morehouse School of Medicine, or any Historically Black Colleges and Universities medical school, over other institutions because of the familiarity Black students have with their faculty members. She says enrolling at a school like Morehouse Medical School, despite having to pay more at other predominantly White institutions, provides intangible resources not available elsewhere.

There are faculty members in the building giving career advice that are relevant to Black students because they were once medical students going through the same struggles, says Gentry. 

“My entire pathology department at Morehouse are Black women,” says Gentry. 

“The entire surgery department at Morehouse, which operates outside of Grady [hospital] our level one trauma center, has an all-Black faculty. You are not going to get that at Harvard [Medical School]. You are not going to get that at Mayo Clinic [College of Medicine and Science].”  

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Fiifi Frimpong

Fiifi Frimpong

Fiifi Frimpong is a 23-year-old graduate student at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in New York City. He is a multimedia journalist and hopes to specialize his work covering sports teams in America. He is usually searching for food recipes to prepare a meal, but always ends up ordering takeout from his favorite Mexican restaurant. In his free time, Frimpong enjoys attending New York Yankee games and hip-hop concerts.

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