For Women of Color in Medicine, the Challenges Extend Beyond Education
The complexities of applying, a lack of mentorship, and struggles to navigate the system are just a few of the roadblocks
Women physicians face constant reminders that they are women in a field created by males, that no matter what they say or how they dress, that they will be mistaken to be everyone except for the physician. Being a person of color in medicine comes with its own issues — from lack of mentorship and guidance to the complexities of applying to medical school and navigating the bureaucracies. “It’s a double-bind,” says Uche Blackstock, M.D., an emergency medicine physician and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, of the dual burden women of color physicians carry.
There are negative stereotypes at work, where the few women of color who are in academic positions in medicine feel that, if they speak up, they are often seen as aggressive, and if they do not, as not being assertive enough. Further, women are faced with bullying, overt sexism, and institutional roadblocks. Additionally, underrepresented minority women physician scientists oftentimes are isolated due to lack of diversity, discrimination from patient families, bias from colleagues and superiors, and tokenism.
The difficulties women of color face start long before medical school. The simple act of applying to medical school is confusing and filled with nuances. Because medical school applications are extremely selective, with institutional acceptance rates ranging from 3% to 12%, the pressure to conform to become the most attractive applicant is high. What makes up the most attractive applicant is oftentimes divulged through social groups as a form of social currency. For many women of color, there is an inherent lack of clarity on what that means.
Health profession advisors are not evenly spread out throughout higher education institutions, where under-resourced institutions are less likely to provide financial and institutional support for their premedical students. While second-year student Courtney Chineme was a pre-medical student in college, she also says she did not know the ins and outs of the medical school application. She took multiple gap years to become a good…