NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—In many ways, the change that scares so many in healthcare is a birthright for Dana M. Thompson, MD, MS.
Explore this issue:June 2018
Her grandfather, who graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1927, was the only African-American general practitioner within a 100-mile radius of his office in Aberdeen, Miss. He was sometimes paid in chickens and eggs.
Dr. Thompson’s father was another Meharry alumni, an obstetrician in Kansas City, Kan., who only half-jokingly told people, “I’m everything the KKK hates: I’m black, Jewish, and Catholic.” He told his daughter early on that she couldn’t live her dream of being Howard Cosell of Monday Night Football fame, but instead, he brought her to his office and to the hospital to make rounds with him to show her what she could be. He
instilled into her psyche that she would have to work four times harder than everyone else just to be on the same playing field.
And that little girl is now a 50-year-old, African-American woman surgeon who thrives on change.
“My presence has represented change in nearly every environment I have been in,” Dr. Thompson. “It’s required resolve and resilience. It’s required an evolving mindset from childhood messages. And it’s required mentors, sponsors, and friends.”
Her lecture, “Inspiring Change from Within: Words to Action,” was as much a heartfelt explanation of her personal journey to being an Endowed Chair and the division head of pediatric otolaryngology in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago as it was a prism through which to view a future for the Triological Society.
Dr. Thompson, also an otolaryngology professor with Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of ENTtoday’s Editorial Advisory Board, wants diversity in medicine, which she said means more female and minority representation in both the society and the specialty. African Americans make up only 2.3% of all otolaryngologist residents in training, well below percentages in other specialties and the overall population. “We have to change that,” she said.
A survey of practicing African-American otolaryngologists showed that 63% are male and 52% are in academic practice. Additionally, only eight African-American otolaryngologists are division chiefs or department chairs. Dr. Thompson also wants to see more women in the field. Just 30% of otolaryngologists are female. Only 14% of the Triological Society’s members are women. Men make up 92% of the specialty’s professors (Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;149:71–76).