Being a doctor is hard enough. Being a Black woman doctor is its own challenge.

“I think one of the biases is around credentials and capabilities … We tend to be overqualified often, but people don’t see those credentials and capabilities.”

Becoming a doctor is difficult enough, considering the dedication and years of schooling required. But for Black women, the road is that much harder, according to one doctor and Harvard professor.

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine for Harvard Medical School, recently helped to pen a piece for The Lancet on the struggles she faced getting through medical school, and the challenges she still encounters today in her career. The article also delved into the low number of Black doctors across the country.

While the United States is 13 percent Black, just 5.4 percent of physicians are Black; of those, just 2.8 percent are Black women. Looking at medical academics, just .8 percent of full medical school professors in 2020 were Black women, according to the article.

When it comes to a Black woman becoming a professor at a place like Harvard Medical, considering its reputation and academic rigor, Cody Stanford noted in an interview with Boston.com that it “can be even more challenging to navigate.”

“But as a Black woman coming through and also seeing those that are coming behind me, the goal is to continue to push forward but often recognize that I’m held to a different standard than my counterparts,” she said.

‘I’m still accused of having a tone problem’
Cody Stanford is far from alone in facing challenges as a Black woman in medicine.

At the recent Black Women in Medicine Conference held by the Massachusetts Medical Society, other Black women in medicine spoke on a panel about the various inequities they’ve faced.

When asked about some of the largest barriers they have overcome, Dani Monroe simply said being Black and being female. Monroe is the president of CenterFocus International, Inc., where she has helped many organizations to grapple with these issues in today’s workplaces and to foster diversity, equity and inclusion. She’s the former senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Massachusetts General Brigham.

“I think one of the biases is around credentials and capabilities that we have, and that we tend to be overqualified often, but people don’t see those credentials and capabilities,” Monroe said. “I think another bias that plays itself out is around experience and not being provided the experience and opportunities to grow and develop.”

The way to get around these biases, she said, is to ignore them.

“To really understand what my power was, what my skill base was, and where I was headed, and to navigate these from a place of strength as opposed to a deficit mindset – that I always assume when I stepped into a space that I should’ve been in that space, that there was no question in my mind whether I should be there or not,” she said.

Other problems Black women face are what Cody Stanford referred to in The Lancet as a version of the Goldilocks dilemma: “They are either insufficient and unsuitable, or boastful and overdone – never just right.”

Black women are left contemplating what to say and how they say it, and the effects of whichever move they make, Cody Stanford said. They also face “hyper-scrutiny,” and are critiqued much more harshly than their white peers, she said.

Then there are the challenges that come with just being a woman. For instance, Dr. Camille Clare is the chair and a professor for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at SUNY-Downstate Health Sciences University College of Medicine and School of Public Health. But sometimes, she said at the conference, it’s as if her title means nothing to colleagues or peers.

“Some of the challenges include being a part of the patriarchy, so even in my role you’d think, ‘Oh chair of the department, what could be the issue there?’” she said. “I’ve been in spaces with male colleagues that I felt like I’m not even in the role that I have.”

In terms of society being especially harsh in its perception of Black women, she, too, has thought about how people perceive her, prompting her to lower her voice, or consider her tone.

“I’m still accused of having a tone problem,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

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“I think one of the biases is around credentials and capabilities … We tend to be overqualified often, but people don’t see those credentials and capabilities.” Becoming a doctor is difficult enough, considering the dedication and years of schooling required. But for Black women, the road is that much harder, according to one doctor and…

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