From boys to doc­tors

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By K. BAR­RETT BILALI

GREENSBORO, N.C. - A his­toric black or­ga­ni­za­tion is mak­ing an ef­fort to in­crease the number of Black male doc­tors en­ter­ing the pro­fes­sion.

The Greensboro Med­i­cal So­ci­ety, which was founded in 1927, has ini­ti­ated a pro­gram to visit schools and en­cour­age young stu­dents to con­sider medicine as a ca­reer.

The so­ci­ety has es­tab­lished a pro­gram called Men’s Doc­tor Day. The pur­pose is to go into schools and reach out to young black males to en­cour­age, in­spire and ex­pose young boys to the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion.

Ear­lier this month, six­teen African Amer­i­can male doc­tors vis­ited Wi­ley Ele­men­tary School and in­spired 182 black boys from pre-K to the fifth grade.

“The par­tic­u­lar school we se­lected was so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally the poor­est school in the county, said Keith Fun­der­burk, who co­or­di­nated the event for the so­ci­ety. “The ma­jor­ity of these kids had never seen a black doc­tor.”

Wi­ley Ele­men­tary School's de­mo­graph­ics were 85 per­cent African Amer­i­can, ten per­cent Latino and five per­cent white or oth­ers.

“We would not deny any­one the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate, but we wanted to have an im­pact on mi­nor­ity stu­dents,” said Fun­der­burk. “We are launch­ing a strat­egy to in­crease the pipeline of African Amer­i­can male stu­dents to pur­sue a ca­reer in medicine.”

For par­tic­i­pat­ing in the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties, each of the stu­dents re­ceived a stetho­scope and a tie.

Med­i­cal doc­tors are awarded a white coat af­ter many years of study, a long res­i­dency and be­com­ing a cer­ti­fied physi­cian or med­i­cal spe­cial­ist. So the so­ci­ety asked the teach­ers from each grade level to select one stu­dent to re­ceive a white coat based on the stu­dent’s aca­demics, at­ten­dance, and good con­duct in school.

Seven boys re­ceived white coats for each of the seven grades at­tend­ing the pro­gram.

“We wanted this to be some­thing they would re­mem­ber,” said Fun­der­burk.

The cri­sis of the de­creased number of black men be­com­ing doc­tors is real. African Amer­i­can males are sim­ply not pur­su­ing medicine as a ca­reer, said Fun­der­burk. There were 545 black men en­rolled in an ac­cred­ited med­i­cal school in 1978. Thir­tysix years later only, 515 black men had en­tered med­i­cal school in 2014.

“That is a stag­ger­ing statis­tic, said Dr. Alvin Pow­ell, a nephrol­o­gist based in Greensboro and one of the doc­tors to visit the ele­men­tary school. “At least, it is stag­ger­ing to me."

Pow­ell was one of the 545 black men to en­ter med school in 1978 af­ter com­plet­ing his bach­e­lor's de­gree at Columbia Univer­sity.

“I saw one African Amer­i­can physi­cian grow­ing up my en­tire child­hood life, said Pow­ell. “The sec­ond one I met in col­lege, third was in med school.”

As for work­ing with such young boys, Pow­ell said the ages four to eleven-year­sold is “the cor­rect age to ex­pose these kids to hope and op­por­tu­nity.”

Pow­ell asked some of the boys what they wanted to be when they grow up. Some said a bas­ket­ball or base­ball player.

“I said, ‘What if you don’t be­come a big man,’ They had a dumb­founded look,” said Pow­ell.

A more re­cent re­port cites the fi­nan­cial ex­pense of med­i­cal school, bias/stereo­types of black men, and im­agery/ca­reer at­trac­tive­ness as some of the key fac­tors for the de­creas­ing number of black males be­com­ing doc­tors.

The re­port also high­lights the im­pact of these young stu­dents at­tend­ing school that are underperforming aca­dem­i­cally. The Wi­ley Ele­men­tary School is ranked aca­dem­i­cally as the 1,275th school out of 1,414 in North Carolina.

“The higher prob­a­bil­ity of Black males at­tend­ing underperforming schools which lack pre-med­i­cal re­sources and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing teach­ers that lack cultural aware­ness in­flu­ences the number of stu­dents in ‘the pipeline,’” said the 2017 re­port en­ti­tled, An Amer­i­can Cri­sis: The Lack of Black Men in Medicine.

“Un­con­scious bias,” said Pow­ell about the be­hav­iors of some teach­ers. “They may be di­rect­ing stu­dents away from med­i­cal schools”

Pow­ell, who grew up in Bos­ton, re­counted a story of his fifth-grade teacher’s re­ac­tion to a book re­port he handed in.

“She said, quote, ‘This sounds like your book re­port was copied from the jacket of the book.’” Along with those bit­ing words, he got a C+ for a grade.

Pow­ell ran home and told his mom. She made him go to the li­brary and find the book and bring it to the teacher to prove that he did not copy any­thing.

“The book was Mr. Pop­per’s Pen­guin,” said Pow­ell. “She [the teacher] made an as­sump­tion and al­le­ga­tion, graded me and gave me a poor grade. As a young boy, I re­al­ized that I was be­ing treated dif­fer­ently because of my race.”

Pow­ell and Fun­der­burk both agree that the chal­lenge of in­creas­ing the number of black young men en­ter­ing into med school is a dif­fi­cult one but not in­sur­mount­able.

“It’s a daunt­ing task,” ad­mit­ted Pow­ell. “But if we don’t get in­volved, whose go­ing to get in­volved?”

The med­i­cal so­ci­ety pro­vided a sim­i­lar pro­gram for young Black fe­male stu­dents in De­cem­ber 2017.


GOOD MEDICINE: Dr. Chris Miller works with young boys at Wi­ley Ele­men­tary School in Greensboro, North Carolina in­spir­ing them to be­come med­i­cal doc­tors.


WHITE COATS: Seven boys re­ceived a doc­tor's white coat to in­spire them to pur­sue a ca­reer in medicine.

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