As I traverse the halls of Howard University College of Medicine, one of only four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with a medical school, I’m inspired by decades of photographs displaying visionaries who became powerful Black leaders in healthcare. Then, here I am, an HBCU medical student with motivation and a tremendous desire to pursue otolaryngology–head and neck surgery, a specialty for which my school has no residency program.
Explore This IssueOctober 2020
The ability of otolaryngologists to secure emergency airways, restore hearing to kids who have never enjoyed the voices of their favorite cartoon characters, and give hope to patients with diagnoses of head and neck cancers, makes otolaryngology surgeons my heroes—I would be thrilled to join their ranks.
However, challenges to my pursuit are magnified by factors that I feel contribute to the shockingly low percentage of Blacks and women in the otolaryngology specialty. The fact that my institution doesn’t have a residency program is alarming in light of the scarcity of Blacks in otolaryngology and because HBCU medical schools currently aren’t, but could be, a pipeline for Blacks into the specialty. In short, otolaryngology doesn’t accurately reflect the population it serves. I want to be among those helping to change the current makeup of the field.
To achieve my goal, I recognize that I must triumph over circumstances outside of academic performance, interpersonal skills, and motivation. In addition to the limited mentorship and resources typical of a home residency program,
- I’m Black and seeking to join a specialty that, as of today, has admitted less than 1% of its complement;
- I’m a woman, and fewer than 20% of us are practicing otolaryngologists; and
- I attend an HBCU medical school that may be frequently overlooked when it comes to applications.
Despite these hurdles, I’m reminded of the success of the minorities who preceded me. I plan to press forward, believing that the picture depicting the tiny number of Blacks and women in otolaryngology accentuates an underserved population needing me to be steadfast in my pursuit and enter the field ready to provide skilled, professional services. I’m encouraged, knowing that this is the course I must pursue and believing that someone out there will see, understand, and be receptive to my situation. Thus, my story begins.
Challenges and Solutions
I remember attending a meeting with an academic advisor of my institution, and his statement, “Only four students have matched into otolaryngology in the last decade.” It penetrated my thoughts like a gust of cold wind on a stormy day.
Stunned by this reality, many students eliminated otolaryngology from their area of interest—quite frankly, we’re often encouraged not to apply in the first place. For me, on the other hand, this implicit discouragement signaled a challenge likely connected to the near absence of Blacks in the field.