#BMIM | Seeing Is Believing by Dr. Jacel C. Brooks
As a black man, seeing another black man in medicine IS BELIEVING it could be you too. The most blaring problem is that there are too few black men in medicine currently, and the trend seems to be turning in the wrong direction. Allow me to start earlier for context; I am the only doctor in my immediate or distant family. My family is TERRIFIED of hospitals/doctors, so fear was the first feeling I got when it came to medicine. The journey into my career of Sports Medicine wasn’t easy. As I went through high school and college, there was no one whom I could easily call on the phone to discuss the life of a doctor. There was no one whom I could ask about what classes would best prepare me for the world of medicine. The only black men in medicine I knew of were the fictional characters on TV and other local doctors I read about in papers. It was hard for me to envision myself making it through the long journey of medicine as a black man, solely because I didn’t know ANY personally who had done so. So at first, believing it would happen to me was a distant thought…
I was fortunate and blessed to get a full academic scholarship to the University of Alabama where I majored Biology/pre-med. It was here where I met other black males who were pre-med. However, when junior year turned into senior year, there I stood again — alone. Did the others change career paths? Did they have a hard time mastering standardized tests like me? The answer was unclear.
I applied to UAB medical school and got in, where I met a handful of other black males who were on their way to becoming doctors like me. It was here where I truly began to believe, because I saw others who had also made it. For those who know me, they know that whatever I put my mind to, I’m determined to accomplish. This was true for medicine, but once I saw other black men in my medical school class, it gave me that extra drive. I learned the tricks (yes there are tricks) to doing well on standardized tests while in medical school. I saw people who looked like me, had similar issues like me, and overcame those issues doing well in medical school. Seeing was believing at this point.
The issue I had (not knowing any other black men in medicine as I started my journey in high school) is an issue that faces many black men today who aspire to pursue careers in medicine. It is much easier, but not impossible, to go through life or a career when we are surrounded by people who share our experiences and backgrounds. It is a much smoother process when black men see other black men in medicine at the beginning of their journey. Access to a mentor as early as high school or college is a BIG stepping-stone to correcting the diminishing presence of black men in medicine.
I have been blessed to train under some of the world’s best pediatricians, orthopedists, and sports medicine physicians. I LOVE what I do as a sports medicine doctor. In my field of medicine, just like many others, black men are scarce. I know we as individuals and as a collective can infect change through mentoring, community service, and being accessible to younger black men. We have too many brilliant, talented young brothers waiting to get their first sight of what it’s like to be a black man in medicine to deprive them of that exposure. Let’s help them see the impacts they can make on others as a black man in medicine. SEEING IS BELIEVING!