#T4DTourX: The Importance of a Mirror

 In Voices of Diversity

 As a 2nd year student of dentistry at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, my days tend to be an amalgam of didactics, lab work, community service and test preparation. Although my reason for choosing a career in dentistry is directly related to providing care to underrepresented populations, being in the whirlwind experience of attending a health professional school, sometimes I wonder when the days will come around when I can “really” start to make a difference in my community.

This year, I am the rookie on the tour, and I am already overwhelmed with pride gazing through the halls filled with younger minorities eager to take on the challenge of pursuing medical health professions. That sense of pride, however, masks a silent, chronic ill feeling stemmed from why many of these students (some of which travelled very far to see us) need programs like this in the first place.

The fact is – doctors of color are grossly underrepresented, and because of that, society subconsciously has set low expectations for people like us. When I tell a stranger that I am studying dentistry, the unanimous assumption is that people think I am studying to become a dental hygienist or dental lab technician. Surprisingly, I get this response from blacks, whites, and every other group in between. After getting this reaction for nearly two years, I asked my classmates about this phenomenon, and they all shared similar experiences. So if people are making this conjecture in the face of well-spoken professionals in training, imagine the subliminal messages that are inadvertently being sent to our youth.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to some wonderful HBCUs for the purpose of mentoring young minds interested in health professions. Immediately, I noticed that the overwhelming response I heard from many of the eager-to-learn participants were observations like:

“It was so nice to see so many young successful doctors who look like me.”

or

“I didn’t think I had what it takes to make it in professional school, but now I believe I can do it because your story is so much like mine.”

There were also several students with competitive GPAs, impressive academic resumes, and interesting extracurriculars perfectly crafted for the application process who still did not believe they could matriculate into professional school!

Because of these testimonies and other personal experiences on tour, I have learned first hand the importance of a mirror. The concept is simply being able to picture yourself accomplishing a goal by seeing parts of yourself in a successful model.  Being a doctor should not be this far-fetched idea. So many students were surprised to find doctors who shared similar taste in music or shared the same dialect as some of the mentors on our team. For the first time for many of the students, they saw doctors as being relatable. A father even took his 12 year old girl out of school to come see us because she had never seen a black doctor before. He knew the value of the “mirror-effect” by creating an image of success that looked like her. In his own way, he wanted to create an impression in her mind of successful black and brown people so when she looks in the mirror, she can see possibilities and not believe in the lack of potential that society seems to place on people like us.

So for doctors and aspiring doctors alike, remember that sometimes making a difference simply means to show face in the community. Because you are a gem, just being who you are and setting an example by normalizing black and brown success is a step in making a positive influence in our young people. Since we are so rare, as we go about our daily lives, you never know how you can influence a young life simply by introducing yourself so they can see themselves in you.

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