‘Children can’t be what they can’t see:’ too few Black doctors, leaders say

More should be done in Dayton-area schools to inspire Black students to want to become doctors or other health professionals, Xenia schools Superintendent Gabe Lofton said.

About 2% of doctors in America are Black men and Lofton said area schools, health systems and universities can be part of the solution to increasing this percentage.

“I think if there was this collective within the private sector, along with institutions of higher learning in the area, along with K-12 organizations or with nonprofits in the area medical schools, you know, I think we could come up with something that is robust. And again, this would have to be a collective impact that we would want to see,” Lofton said.

Lofton participated in a panel discussion this week put on by the Greene County Library that discussed the new documentary “Black Men in White Coats,” which premiered nationally this month.

Founded in 2013, the Black Men in White Coats organization’s mission is to increase the number of black men in the field of medicine by exposure, inspiration and mentoring. The organization was created by Dr. Dale Okorodudu. The documentary chronicles the journey of Black men in medicine like Okorodudu and explores the issues facing Black boys in pursuing a career in medicine.

Lofton said he sees the K-12 responsibility to expose kids to a rigorous curriculum. He said school systems should work to inspire Black children early on. Lofton, and the documentary, touched on the idea that children can’t be what they can’t see.

“As educators, we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re putting in front of our kids individuals that look like them. And individuals that are not basketball players, or other things … It’s important to put in front of our kids, doctors, engineers, lawyers, so they can actually see that this is something they can do,” Lofton said.

Giving students an opportunity early in their schooling would take some of the added pressure off them when in college, the panelists said. Dr. Christopher Holloway, a family medicine physician at Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek, said he felt an added pressure in medical school to do well because there were so few Black students in his class.

“I need to do well because if I don’t do well, it’s such a small percentage of us, if I don’t do well then they’re going to think that all Black students can’t succeed. I have to show up I have to show out because I need to do this for all the Black students that ever will come behind me,” Holloway said.

The well-documented disparities in health care in the Black community is an important reason for the need for increased numbers of Black doctors, panelists said.

Joshua Madden, a senior at Wright State’s Boonshoft School of Medicine, said he’s witnessed the disparities in his education and doctor shadowing.

“A lot of times, I see how patients are treated differently,” Madden said. “We have patients that come in who cannot afford their medications, who have to pay for bills or have to take care of childcare expenses and things of that nature. So when it comes down to their health or paying those bills, they’re always going to take care of the bills or survival, they’re not going to take care of their health. But if you don’t come from a community where you understand that people have to make that decision and you will say that this person is not complying. You won’t see the issue that’s in front of you.”

Madden said, for example, if a doctor assumes a patient can get to any pharmacy, but that person doesn’t have a car, then they’re less likely to pick up the medicines and take them.

“So now when this patient doesn’t fill their script and they come back in and their blood sugar is super high and their A1C was super high, you’re like ‘well you’re not taking the medications I gave you.’ But that’s not the case. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s because they have barriers that block them from doing that,” Madden said.

As a Black man, Madden said he thinks of these things, but someone from a different background may not.

“The key concept is trust and comfort,” said Dr. Karen Mathews, a family medicine physician. “The patient has to trust us feel comfortable around us. And that’s so important, and I’m speaking for my family medicine background, if you are to have the smallest hope of getting someone to do something preventatively... there has to be that element of camaraderie, trust, and comfort. And having someone who looks like you may be what allows that. It’s not an absolute necessity, but shouldn’t the patient have a choice?”

Mathews, who has worked as the executive director of Health and Psychological Services at Central State University since 2011, said in her medical school experience, some professors seemed to think she should be an expert in certain topics, such as sickle cell anemia that predominantly affects people of African heritage, because of the color of her skin.

Black students should be encouraged to enter any field of the health profession, the panelists said.

Matthews said there also are opportunities for Black women to lift up their male counterparts. Madden said being surrounded by Black women in medical school has helped him to be more focused.

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