Black Men In White Coats Offers Black Children Representation In Medicine

As BLACK ENTERPRISE previously reported, Black people tend to live longer in counties that have a higher concentration of Black doctors. In connection with this research, the Black Men in White Coats organization held a youth summit for Milwaukee area youth on May 4. 

As Fox 6 Milwaukee reports, the group’s event represents its stated goal to increase the number of Black men in the medical field through exposure, inspiration, and mentorship. The event was held at Milwaukee’s Golda Meir School Upper Campus and Mark Ehioghae, a Medical College of Wisconsin student said the event was designed so young Black children could envision themselves in those white coats someday. 

“We’re trying to allow these kids to see themselves as they would be in the (operating room),” Ehioghae said. “They’re using their hands. They’re being active, they’re getting the feel of what it is to be a surgeon.” Ehioghae continued, encouraging the kids to keep dreaming. “No dream is too big. I’m a testimony of that, you will be a testimony of that. Find your right mentor and keep pushing forward. I promise you, you’ll get to where I am today.”

An organizer of the youth summit, Dr. Ugwuje Maduekwe, told Fox 6 that the event is closely intertwined with the mission of Black Men in White Coats. “Black men in medicine is a big focus of today because they are the least adequately represented demographic that we have data for,” Dr. Maduekwe said. “Black men in the United States have the worst health outcomes, and we also know that their health outcomes are better when they’re taken care of by physicians who look like them.”

In 2023, Time Magazine reports that the shortage of Black doctors can be traced back to reforms of the early 19th Century and into the 20th Century which had the effect of making it more difficult and discouraging for Black doctors to get licensed to practice medicine in the United States. Motivated by the racist fear of what Black doctors would mean for their share of the profession, white doctors who founded the American Medical Association kept Black doctors from joining their ranks. 

Similar to how the United States would roll out the G.I. Bill after the World Wars, the AMA essentially made it impossible for Black doctors to exist, but never explicitly forbade Black doctors from joining their organization. The result of these enacted policies was essentially a segregated system under which Black doctors, unaffiliated with the AMA, would treat Black patients, while white doctors treated white patients. This culminated in the release of the Flexner Report in 1910, which had the chilling effect of closing all but two Black medical schools in existence at the time. This has had present-day ramifications, as only around 6% of doctors in America are Black, which experts say constitutes a public health risk. 

New York based obstetrician and gynecologist Nwameka Ugokwe told Haverford College in 2021 that addressing systemic racism would go a long way towards improving health disparities. 

Systemic racism plays a big part in health disparities,” Ugokwe said. “I work in one of the most underserved areas in Brooklyn—almost all of my patients are Black or Brown. Our neighborhood sees a lack of prenatal care and a lot of preterm births and teen pregnancies. If our hospital were not there, people in this area would have a huge issue getting healthcare at all.” 

Traci Trice, a family medicine physician, agreed, telling Haverford of the importance of ensuring that Black patients are represented by the physicians that participate in the American healthcare system. “Medical students and physicians both benefit from diverse colleagues who can share their experiences and also introduce them to new ones. Diversity increases physicians’ level of empathy toward each other and toward patients from backgrounds different from their own,” she says. “We need more Black physicians because the health of the population depends on it.” 

RELATED CONTENT: Survey: Black People Anticipate Racism At Doctor’s Office

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