Black Woman Doctor
Written by Love Nafi (A Black Woman Doctor)
Whether it’s flossing in your white coat or holding the title of 1st in your family, being a black girl doctor most certainly has its perks. In a lot of ways, we are “winning”. But beyond all the prestige that comes with the title lies some very harsh realities. Of course, your family and friends will praise you and admire you, but sometimes they don’t even know the half of your struggles. This is not Married To Medicine, this is a true narrative. This is a testament of black women doctors- a somewhat peculiar ode. This is not a whine or rant -this is our story. Things may go unspoken in the professional world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s time to keep it 100. Black girl doctors have been waiting to exhale.
The aspired always ask me “What’s it’s like being a doctor?” And depending on the day- the cloud above my head may be filled with a cursed phrase or retrospective admiration. Though most times I make sure to give them the safe and happy version as a means to preserve hope. Let’s just say its not exactly like Grey’s Anatomy. In reality my days are reminiscent of Issa Rae’s fictional workplaces- sometimes a time travel back into Hidden Figures– imaginary horrors of Get Out not exactly too far removed. There are days when I am tired of being around the majority, not because of dislike, but because of the reminder that I am different. People can pretend not to see color but it’s virtually impossible, because it has become a permanent marker of all of our identities. I did not choose to be different, I was classified as such even before I left the womb. Every time I mark black on something as trivial as a survey, I am reminded of the caste like system that I am in. My feelings validated once I realize the transfer of angst in the hypothetical scenario of the less likely configuration.
But do you really want to know what it’s like being the black female doctor? Well it’s like being black in most other professional workplaces. Awkward. You are the minority to begin with- in every aspect. You automatically stand out for all the reasons that don’t matter. Like for example, your hair. I can’t even count how many times my hair was the topic of discussion without my permission. Never really understood why I had mild anxiety about going to work the next day. Never really understood why it even mattered.
“An endless battle of perceptions. . . .”
Stereotypes will meet you, even though you may run miles away from them. An endless battle of perceptions. And with being the minority, many of your privileged peers subconsciously do not want to see you in a leadership position. Leadership easily becomes a battle with subordinates and trust is hardly given upfront. Patients and peers alike will subconsciously underestimate your role on first look. You’re the doctor???- that subtle expression of innocent disbelief. The unspoken assumption that you are automatically the least trained in the room. And sometimes you will have to treat people who secretly hate you because they have no way to undo the learned hate that they were taught- even if they try extremely hard to express the latter. The hardest part though is always working twice as hard and walking on a tight rope- so as not to slip and fall victim to any of the above.
However, there is light- as cheesy as it sounds- in diversity. Imagine a work environment full of different colors- to the extent that no one felt different, just perhaps -human. So before you toss up the minority program at your school as just a social club or take it for granted all together- think about the lasting implications it can have for your future work environment. So would I do it all again? Yes. But I can only hope and pray for a more diverse field in the years to come. Despite the emotional roller coaster, I love my profession. The autonomy and gratitude I receive from my patients really can’t be quantified, especially when it comes to patients of color.
Echoing sentiments of our sister Tamika Cross, being a black female doctor in this particular climate is not easy. Black women are still a minority in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). According to the National Science Foundation, black women make <1% of all females employed in STEM and only 2% of all scientists and engineers. And according to the Journal of the National Medical Association, only 2% of all physicians are black women. So cherish your black girl doctor friends. There is an unspoken bond between us. There is special fierceness in us that cannot be denied. And when we work together or alone in other places far and wide, we create magic. Black girl doctors. We are real. We are smart and capable. We are not imposters. This is #whatadoctorlookslike. Me!
- National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2013. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2013. Special Report NSF 13-304. Arlington, VA. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/. Accessed: 20 March 2013 – See more at: http://www.scientistafoundation.com/scientista-spotlights/why-so-few-african-american-women-in-stem-part-ii-by-the-numbers#sthash.WXq6xxak.dpuf
- Rao V, Flores G. Why aren’t there more African-American physicians? A qualitative study and exploratory inquiry of African-American students’ perspectives on careers in medicine. Journal of the National Medical Association. 2007;99(9):986-993.