‘Black Men and Women in White Coats’ address underrepresentation in health care

Research shows reasons Black youth aren’t choosing a career in medicine include a lack of Black role models, and racism in modern medicine.
A group of Upstate doctors is speaking out about the lack of diversity prevalent in the healthcare field
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 6:43 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Numbers from the Association of American Medical Colleges finds there’s a severe lack of diversity in health care nationwide. Roughly 5% of doctors are Black, and Hispanics and Native Americans are even more severely underrepresented. There’s a ripple effect that’s impacting more than just patients.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but Prisma Health doctors in Greenville are about action, mentoring people like Shiloh Eyabi.

“You have to be able to have tenacity, drive and support,” Eyabi said. “I wouldn’t be here without the support system that I have.”

She’s a first-year medical student or M1 at USC School of Medicine Greenville who calls a career in medicine a personal decision made early.

“When my grandmother came to (South Carolina) she was diagnosed with some health complications, she was in and out of the hospital a lot,” Eyabi said. “I went on that journey with her, watching her take her health so seriously – the principles of lifestyle and preventative medicine honestly inspired me, and I knew that I wanted to do that on a larger scale for many more patients in the future.”

She’s embarking on a career where Blacks are underrepresented.

“You see the barriers, they’re very real,” Eyabi said.

Sentiments echoed by Dr. Frank Clark, MD, Prisma Health Psychiatry, whose been a physician for 13-years and unsettled about a less publicized trend in health care.

“I have to say that systemic racism is part of that,” Dr. Clark said. “We have to think about the brick and mortars that have been built for centuries. We have a caste system in America, and the caste system says that if you are not in the majority you are a subordinate.”

And data supports this, research from the Journal of the National Medical Association finds reasons Black youth aren’t choosing a career in medicine include a lack of Black role models, and racism in modern medicine.

“That adage of you can’t be what you can’t see has echoed throughout the halls of medicine,” Dr. Clark said. “There have been studies to show when reviewing patients’ charts, they found words such as ‘noncompliant’ and ‘aggressive’ were more likely to be in the charts of people of color, compared to their White counterparts.”

This falls in line with a Georgetown University Health Policy Institute report that finds Blacks were more likely than any other minority group to “feel disrespected” during a health care visit, to include “being spoken to rudely, talked down to, or ignored,” and minorities across the board “are more likely” than whites to believe they would receive “better” care if they were a different race.

“Cultural competency can’t exist without cultural humility,” Dr. Clark said.

To stress the need for a more diversified workforce, Black doctors in white coats gathered in front of Prisma Health Greenville Memorial Hospital on Feb. 21. A similar demonstration is planned for Feb. 22 in Columbia, SC.

“To show solidarity in the community,” Dr. Clark said.

And they’re also there for Eyabi until she also receives her white coat. She’s a Levi S. Kirkland Society scholarship fund recipient and these doctors want to work with more colleges and high schools to find others like her.

“You meet people who resemble your warrant identity. If you can see one or two people and say, ‘oh, there’s a Black physician, he or she looks like me,’ that is powerful,” Dr. Clark said.

To learn more about the Levi S. Kirkland Society Mentoring Program visit https://sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/medicine_greenville/about/diversity/kirkland.php