The Influence of Racism

First off, I want to give a shoutout to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we celebrate his legacy as well as all the sacrifices that so many people in both the past and the present have made in order to guarantee everyone access to the civil rights that they deserve. While he wouldn’t be much too pleased about the current state of our country, he would be actively encouraging us all to fight for justice and to combat the racist & divisive rhetoric that is being spewed to us on a frighteningly regular basis. With that said, let’s continue to do our best to live up to the ideals that he believed in and work to make this country, as well as this world, a better place to live in!

martin luther king kindness GIF by Gilbert, Arizona

I spent the entirety of my weekend in Nashville, TN, at the quarterly SNMA National Leadership Institute, where members of the Board of Directors as well as pre-med and medical students in local chapters convened for a weekend of leadership sessions, networking, research presentations, and business meetings. Because it was my third one as a member of the Board of Directors, I already knew what the flow of the weekend was going to be like.

And sure enough, it was ridiculously busy.

Although I spent the vast majority of the weekend in board meetings discussing various matters pertinent to the organization, I did get the opportunity to sit in on a few sessions where physician-leaders of various disciplines spoke with us on topics such as what leadership in the SNMA looks like, leadership behaviors, addressing health disparities and racism as an executive, community organizing and using leadership for social justice. One common theme that kept resurfacing throughout the sessions of the conference was the powerful and negative impact that racism can have on one’s mindset. It’s almost mind-numbing to consider how something as arbitrary as race was turned into this whole social construct that was ultimately weaponized against specific populations for such an extensive duration of time that these minority populations ultimately came to believe and internalize the false and damaging stereotypes that were associated with their respective race.

I personally spent so much of my formative years internally struggling with this ordeal. Due to the media, my surroundings, the “Black” & “African” jokes and stereotypes I routinely heard throughout my adolescent years, I truly believed that Black people just simply weren’t “good enough” and that as a Black Man in America, I was supposed to be either an athlete, a rapper, an entertainer or something else along those lines in order to truly be successful. Even though I was fortunate enough to have an amazing support network and incredible parents who invested so much in me throughout my life, I still saw the intelligence I was gifted with as unusual, even embarrassing at times. I found myself desperately trying to fit in with what was considered to be “Black” as I went about my high school days and ended up suffering through an identity crisis. It didn’t help that I had a completely separate lifestyle back at home as a first-generation American.

It really wasn’t until I got to college that I began to truly feel comfortable in my own skin. My mindset about being Black also shifted dramatically during my undergraduate years and I ended up meeting many people who were just like me, including those who were raised by immigrant parents from various countries in the continent of Africa. I found strength in being Black and for the first time in my life, I was 100% proud of my heritage and of being a Black Man in America. I began to actively fight against the stereotypes that I had unconsciously internalized up to that point, instead finding traits such as resilience, wisdom, perseverance, courage and strength commonplace across the Black diaspora. I realized how troublesome it was to believe that being an intelligent Black Man could be seen as unusual and decided to not only be proud of who I was, but to also begin motivating and inspiring others like me to disregard the false stereotypes being placed upon us and to instead internalize the positive traits that we all have the ability to possess.

Even to this day, there are moments where I find myself having to mentally combat a stereotype I was conditioned to believe throughout my life. What’s so crazy about all of this is that even with the relatively comfortable upbringing that I had, I STILL went through all of this. I can’t even begin to imagine all of those young Black kids who don’t have the same resources I had growing up who have been conditioned to believe that they are inferior to others and that they don’t have the ability or potential to be just as great as, if not greater than, what they perceive to be as successful.

Yeah I know, I went off on a MAJOR tangent….but I felt that it was necessary to put all that out there. It was especially fitting, considering that it’s MLK Day.

Overall, the SNMA conference was pretty productive and I was able to catch up with some friends that I hadn’t seen in months. However, I wasn’t really able to do much of any sightseeing of the city because I was so busy 😔. Now that this leadership conference is over, it’s time to gear up for the national conference that everyone knows and loves; the SNMA Annual Medical Education Conference! It’s taking place in Philly this year and I’m really looking forward to it, especially since it will be my final year participating as a medical student 😭. The past two AMECs that I’ve been to were phenomenal experiences and I have no doubt that this one will be just as awesome!

Briefly recapping my past week, I spent it experiencing various fields of Anesthesia while working on completing some of my required assignments. I spent one day working in Pediatric Anesthesia, another day observing what life performing procedures in a pain clinic looks like, and yet another day helping manage the airway of psychiatric patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy. I even got the opportunity to push some necessary medications into them, which was a neat experience. In regards to the midterm I took on Monday morning…..it was pretty tough, but not as terrible as I was expecting. I got my score back a few days later and it definitely wasn’t the best I’ve ever performed, but more than enough to keep my chances of comfortably passing the rotation alive. I scored about what I was expecting to score, so I wasn’t really fazed by my result at all. I just want to now get through these required readings, deliver my PowerPoint presentation that I still have to finish working on, take the final this Friday and FINALLY be done with all these assignments that I REALLY DON’T want to do anymore.

kerry washington eye roll GIF by The Paley Center for Media

Speaking of, I’m going to go ahead and sign off so that I can start working on finishing this presentation as well as get through a chapter or two of my anesthesia textbook. *Sigh* C’est la vie.

I hope that your week is a delightful one!

“Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Black Man, M.D.

Growth, Control & Breaking Stereotypes.

February is already looking like its going to fly by very quick. But then again, when has time not flown by since I started medical school back in late July? It’s damn near impossible to fathom how fast I’m approaching my second year of medical school…almost nerve-wracking. I don’t feel that much different from when I graduated college back in May, but at the same time I’ve been exposed to an entirely new mentality as well as a raging waterfall of information that persistently tries to drown me on a constant basis. But truth be told, I’ve so far been faring a lot better than I had imagined I would be. Back before I even got accepted into a medical school I had imagined that whenever I started studying medicine, my life as I knew it would be over. I thought that I would be endlessly memorizing facts and studying during most of my waking hours while hopelessly watching my social life fade away from me like Michael Jackson moonwalking into a misty graveyard. I also believed that no matter how hard I tried, I would fall short of the grades that I managed to obtain while in undergrad. The thought of attempting to take on extracurricular activities, much less leadership positions while in medical school was a joke to me and I believed that although I would enjoy what I was learning, I would be silently miserable at the same time.

Well, that’s how you tend to imagine med school after asking the majority of the people you know about what means to be there. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. Okay, sort-of wrong. I sure as hell am studying during most of my waking hours and endlessly memorizing facts, but so are all of my peers. So it doesn’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything. Plus I’m in Winston-Salem. So I know for sure I’m not missing out on anything spectacular. The social life I knew changed as soon as I left Miami, but it never faded away…it simply transformed. I definitely have had a great time with the friends I’ve made here and am far from miserable. I’ve even been able to participate in different extracurricular activities such as service learning opportunities and SNMA. As for obtaining the grades that I had back in undergrad…..yeah I’m falling shorter than a muhhh. I’ve had like one or two tests where I’ve reached the grades that I was used to making back then, but other than that, it’s been an uphill struggle trying to achieve high grades. But I haven’t been doing bad either so that’s okay. The Pass/Fail grading system truly is a beauty. I guess what I’m trying to say is, just like with anything in life, medical school is what you make it. If you want it to be a miserable experience, it definitely will grant your wish. If you want to have an awesome experience while studying medicine, you can definitely make it happen. It’s your decision. I chose the latter. I won’t lie though, the city I’m in has also made it undoubtedly easier to stay focused on school. 😅

Looking back on my CPX (Clinical Practice Assesment Exam) I told you about last week, I ended up doing fairly well. My ever-expanding interview skills didn’t fail me, and I actually took a correct blood pressure reading on my own for the first time! Hella embarrassing I know, but up until that point I had been faking my way through that portion since we don’t have to report vital signs at this stage in our careers…we just have to go through the motions. But I actually heard the thump, thump of the pulse in the brachial artery that I’m supposed to hear and got a decent systolic/diastolic blood pressure for the first time. That was probably the most exciting part of my exam haha. I also performed the physical exam maneuvers decent enough, so I ended up passing. I forgot that I was supposed to use a drape for my standardized patient though…..I had seen it, but I just threw it aside. 😂 Still passed thooo!!!

I also met and interviewed a patient that was suffering from ulcerative colitis last week during my clinical skills rotation. Needless to say, this patient was in pretty severe pain. I almost felt bad asking him about his pain, but he was pretty engaged in our conversation and happy to help me practice my interviewing skills on him. Seeing how far those skills have come from when I first started amazes me. There was a point where I didn’t even know how to properly ask a patient to describe their pain. Now obtaining an HPI has almost become second nature to me, although I have to now start learning how to obtain it in a quicker and more efficient manner. My clinical skills coach also had me and my small group present our patients to her (which I absolutely suck at) and develop a write-up of our patients in order to critique us (which she is absolutely stunning at). Good thing I won’t have to truly utilize these skills until my third year, but it’s real nice that we get this early clinical exposure so that we are comfortable with doing all that when it comes time to put these skills to good use. Right after my clinical skills class, there was an event where a few members of the Wake Forest School of Medicine faculty talked about times where they felt like they failed and how they bounced back from those failures in order to become better and stronger people. I just thought that it was an amazing event and I felt like the lessons that these faculty learned through their struggles are lessons that could benefit not only us as medical students, but you, the reader, as well. These lessons included:

  • Recognizing that you are in control of building your life the way you want to after hitting rock bottom
  • Seizing the moment and doing something nice for yourself each day
  • Not letting your grades nor comments, criticisms or negativity from other people define who you are
  • Communicating your needs while setting standards for yourself that is consistent with your values

 

Okay I know I’m talking a lot, but I just thought about an encounter I had with my barber a little over a week ago that I forgot to put in last week’s entry. This is my last story for today, I swear lol. I was at the barber shop getting a line-up for Wake’s medical school prom a couple of Fridays ago and I had my Wake Forest School of Medicine hoodie on. When it was my turn to get my line-up, the barber introduced himself and everything and we had a light convo as he was getting all his supplies ready. Then as he began lining me up, he asked me, “You play ball for Wake Forest?”

I guess he didn’t get the ‘School of Medicine’ memo on my hoodie. I was like, “Nah, I’m a first-year medical student at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.”

He abruptly picked up his razor off of my head, looked at me and was like, “Oh word? For real? That’s what’s up man. You must get that question a lot huh?”

I laughed and replied, “Yeah man, more times than I can remember. I may look like a ball player but funny thing is, I’m trash at basketball. So I just stuck to what I knew best, which was the books. I really just want to help break the stereotype that has been cast on us as young, black men.”

He laughed, himself an older black man, and said, “Well that’s great man, I’m happy for you.” As he started to return to his task, he went on, “You know, the media really does try and stick us all in a box. They expect us to be rappers, basketball players, football players, you name it. The news also covers all the bad things that black people do but does little to highlight our accomplishments. Like for example, the news will never tell you who the second richest black person in America is (Robert F. Smith) because he isn’t an athlete or an entertainer. He’s a business man. You’re doing a great thing man, don’t let up. Young black men are always trying to find the fastest way to becoming rich, which is why we fall in the stereotype trap, but the road you’re taking is definitely worth it in the end. You just gotta do your thing and own your own practice and show other young black men that they’re capable of what you’re doing.”

I wasn’t expecting a TED Talk from my barber, but I deeply appreciated what he had told me. All I could say was, “Thanks man, I really appreciate that. That’s a big reason why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

He then said it was no problem and went on to talk about how diabetes and glaucoma had affected his family as a whole and why he decided to change the way he ate and lived so that he wouldn’t suffer the same consequences that some of his loved ones did. It ended up being one of my more memorable barber experiences and needless to say, I ended up tipping him a good amount after the cut. I think I’ve finally found my new favorite barber in Winston-Salem.

Alright that was a lot. But the more I typed, the more I realized how much more I wanted to say. I hope you enjoyed this post and that you perhaps took something out of it. As for today’s positive memo:

You may not always have control of your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. Don’t let your circumstances control you.

Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday!!!

 

– Black Man, M.D.