Black and Pursuing Medicine at a PWI

You remember your first day of freshman year in college? I sure do. I was at my dream school, typical hardcore pre-med student, super excited about everything, hashtag college girl. All that excitement withered away once I stepped foot into my very first class. I knew I was a part of the 6% of black students that attended my university, but still I sat there brimming full of consternation in a calculus lecture of 300 students, seeing only six that looked like me.

 Me looking around to make sure I only counted 6 other people.

I lived in South Florida my entire life; an environment where I personally did not feel like a minority because I was constantly surrounded by other black people. In that calculus class, boy did I feel like a minority! I already felt like I was at a disadvantage, and that I would have to work twice as hard to reap the same benefits as my counterparts. I played a major role in reforming some of my peers’ inaccurate perceptions and stereotypes of black women. Something I never before felt was my responsibility.

Recently, while navigating through the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website, I fell upon a statistic that impacted me immensely. It allowed me to broaden my reflection beyond my experience of being black at a PWI but to being black and pursuing medicine at a PWI.

Being black and pre-med at a PWI is having to constantly hear the cookie-cutter description – 4.0 GPA, 90th percentile MCAT score, super involved, science major – of how to get into medical school and being criticized or feeling defeated when you fall short of these expectations.

Honestly, ask yourself these questions.

Have you been told that you won’t be a doctor, you should change your major, with those grades you definitely will not get into medical school? Sometimes it feels like the people who should be there to support you and give you guidance during these moments of defeat do the exact opposite. Got to love those pre-health advisors right?

Not trying to be too statistical, but according to the AAMC African Americans have the lowest acceptance rates into medical schools. And on average African American students that matriculated into medical school had the lowest GPA and MCAT scores.

WHY THOUGH?

*Cracks Fingers* Y’all ready for this?

In general, black students seem academically, culturally, and economically incompatible with the PWI model of education (Hunt, Schmidt, Hunt, Boyd, & Magoon, 1994). The PWI model caters to individuals who academically meet white-created standards, such as high grade point averages and standardized test scores (Delgado, 1998; Easley, 1993; Sedlacek, 1999; Suen, 1983), who have culturally assimilated into mainstream society, and who possess the financial resources to pay for the rising cost of education. In effect, any student who does not identify with the tenets of the dominant paradigm in the United States can potentially struggle at PWIs.

So, of course, we go into these institutions and literally struggle. After taking a class over and still doing poorly the second time, or repeatedly just skating by in science classes you know you need to excel in, you become so mentally, and emotionally drained. It’s discouraging! And that’s where a lot of doubt comes in to play. I can’t pass these science classes, can I really be a doctor? We stop believing in ourselves. We cannot allow our GPA to be the sole determinant of our intellect.

On top of that, having to deal with culturally insensitive faculty, staff, and students. In my academic setting, I have witnessed minorities being ostracized, discriminated against, their rights being abrogated, and being diminished down to check marks to fill a quota. Yet the words diversity and inclusion are still being thrown around like bandages to cover up the reality of the matter. And aside from these obvious racial tensions, being questioned: “why did you even decide to attend a PWI?” (BIGGEST EYE ROLL EVER)

We can sit here and dwell on these points, but that is not going to change our reality.

We have to stick together! I attended a conference and met seven medical students who stood before me and said, we are the only black students in our class. It may just be 7 of us, but we stick together.

As pre-medical students, with the resources we have, what can we do to help diversify medicine? I believe in the little things – keeping notes from previous classes to share with other students, sharing opportunities, being a positive voice to someone who feels defeated and celebrating our successes no matter how small. By the way, you are NOT your organic chemistry grade or whatever science class that is seemingly out there to get you. Once you make it, because YOU WILL, going back and motivating those even in elementary school, middle school, high school, college, that they are capable of pursuing medicine is crucial.

My name is Esther Duqueney and I will be a doctor!

I dare you all to speak it into existence. Let’s diversify medicine!

As always, Stay Fabulous.

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