Focused on excellence, historically Black colleges and universities provide a student resource pool of well-trained prospects to increase the presence of Blacks in otolaryngology.
Explore This IssueOctober 2020
In truth, I’ve never been the type of student to stagnate in the face of adversity. Whenever someone tells me something will be difficult as if to discourage me, my next immediate thought is, “What can I do to meet this challenge and succeed?” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had patients comment on how pleased they were to see a young Black student doctor, and how few they had encountered during their otolaryngologic interactions. While I’m hopeful to one day fulfill this role, I’m aware of the fact that even the patients we serve make note of the scarcity of Black otolaryngology providers and the abundant need to diversify training programs.
I can also foresee the likelihood that, if given the opportunity to train in otolaryngology residency, I may be the only Black person in the program. For me, however, this reality is quite familiar. As a graduate of outstanding predominantly white institutions prior to my arrival at medical school, I’m certainly no stranger to being productive in academic environments as “the only” Black student. Despite this, I feel both comfortable and successful.
Too often, it is my belief that excellent HBCU medical programs and the outstanding students graduating from them are overlooked or unintentionally denied consideration to some specialty programs within the medical field. Sometimes it appears that the very existence of HBCUs with medical schools is unrecognized or overlooked. An illustration of this reality confronted me during a third-year clerkship when the resident on my service asked me what medical school I attended. “I attend Howard University College of Medicine,” I answered proudly.
The intern’s face immediately lit up as she exclaimed, “Congratulations on your attendance at Harvard! That is a top institution!”
Careful not to interrupt, I let her finish singing my praises before saying, “Not Harvard. Howard. I attend Howard University College of Medicine, right here in Washington, D.C.”
“Oh, Howard,” she replied. “I was unaware they had a medical school.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised by this encounter, as I’ve heard similar comments by others in the medical field, including attendings.
From my perspective, although HBCUs are the richest source of Black students matriculating to medical school, many of those students are discouraged from pursuing otolaryngology as a career, and few will ultimately apply. Focused on excellence, these HBCUs provide a student resource pool of well-trained prospects to increase the presence of Blacks in otolaryngology. Those who control the specialty by policing its gates through the residency application process must have the vision and willingness to broaden their consideration and be receptive to students in situations like mine.
Though I recognize these requirements are fundamental to a student like me gaining acceptance into otolaryngology, I’m certain that I’ve done everything within my power to pursue my dream. As otolaryngology leaders gear up to evaluate hundreds of applications for residency, I’m hopeful some will read this story and determine to make sure their programs include a holistic review of applications this year.