Why Representation Matters .

Representation - 

  1. The action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being so represented
  1. The description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.

Recently, I was talking to two of the guys that attend the pharmacy school at my program. They both are African Americans and are in the midst of finishing up their last year of their PharmD program. An array of topics came up, and one of them asked, “why is there a lack of diversity in the physician assistant program? Is it because a lack of education of the profession? Or, are minorities not applying to these programs?” I could not give a concise answer to their question because I, myself, did not know the answer to this question. I guess it could be because of a lack of education of the profession. I did not know what a PA was until my junior year of college, but I knew the PA profession was not the only medical profession that had a lack of representation.

According to AAMC, in 2015, medical school graduates comprised of 5.7% Black or African Americans, while Hispanic/Latinos had the lowest representation at 4.6%. According to NCCPA, in 2016, Blacks or African Americans had the lowest representation at 3.9%, and there are approximately 9% black/African American pharmacists. African Americans make up 13% of the population, the largest among minorities, however, we have the lowest representation in some of the most affluent medical professions. Why is that? Is it because there is a lack of education about these professions, or are we not matching up with our counterparts? I find it hard to believe that we are not able to achieve on the same level as our non-minority colleagues because I know a myriad of young, black professionals who are achieving at high-levels in the medical profession and they are some of the most intelligent people I have met. I do believe that it is a combination of lack of education about these profession and lack of representation.

Growing up, I lived in a predominately white area and I was often the only black person in my classes. Being a jock throughout high school who just happened to have stellar grades, learning about what I wanted to be in the future was not my priority; getting an athletic scholarship to Connecticut or Maryland was (clearly that NEVER happened, lol). Meanwhile, my non-minority friends, were going on college tours, and a lot of them were shadowing professionals in different career-paths. It wasn’t until my senior year I buckled down and started to be more serious about my future (after I realized I wasn’t getting a basketball scholarship). When it came to going to college, I purposely applied to the school that had a reputation of being a party school and being “lit.” Yes, I knew I wanted to be a doctor at this point, but aside from that, I really didn’t have a plan. I did not shadow a doctor prior to going to college, and aside from two surgeries I had during high school, I had never set foot in a hospital. It wasn’t until working in a hospital where my knowledge of the medical field expanded. I saw a myriad of different roles throughout the medical field – nurses, respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc. However, there was a distinct pattern amongst these professions; there were very little black doctors, PAs or NPs. I always worried why, but I could never put on my finger on why this was the case.

As I have become wiser and more mature, I have become more inquisitive about why there is such a lacking of black representation amongst the medical field. I do think that minorities that are in the medical field are not being uplifted in society. We have sites on Instagram and other social media platforms such as “The Shaderoom” and “Baller Alert,” whom are catered to minorities, and they are quick to post about Blac Chyna’s next victim or what the Kardashians are wearing, but they won’t post about the first black, woman Neurosurgery resident accepted at John Hopkins (congrats Nancy Abu-Bonsrah! #blackgirlmagic). I understand that certain topics are more entertaining than others, and social media was initially built for entertainment purposes, however, if this is what society is ONLY seeing, then it puts that stigma that this is what we can only achieve. Times have changed. I know I have younger cousin’s who are 11 years old, and they have Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and they too see these Instagram models and reality TV stars plastered over the web, and they think that that is the “norm” and try to emulate these celebrities. They aren’t seeing people that “look like them” achieving miraculous things, so subconsciously, they think it’s okay to be half-naked on the web at the age of 16; they aren’t seeing the black doctors, pharmacists, nurses, PAs, or NPs kicking butt and being some bad asses.

Several months ago, I was able to volunteer at a back to school fair that my program provides screening blood pressure checks at. While at a fair, a picture was snapped, where I was checking a lady’s blood pressure. The lady was African American, and in the background, you saw her three young daughters looking at me while I took care of their momma. I have seen this picture a million times, but recently, this photo really made an impact on me. “I” was that positive young, African American face representation that the medical field is so deserving and desperate for, and “I” was showing these three young babies that there is more out there than being the next Instagram model or reality TV star; just like me, you too can achieve bigger and better things. These three babies saw someone that looked like them making the world a better place.

Having a diverse medical community is also important because it allows minority patients to see someone that looks like them caring for them, and it gives them the trust that they so desire. A lot of my family members, whom grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and earlier than those time periods, are hesitant to go to seek medical care because at one point, they were not allowed to received medical care from non-minority healthcare providers. Those memories and mindset has carried on, and today, a lot of them do not want to seek medical care because "they do not have healthcare providers that look like me." Yes, this may sound counterintuitive that they do not want to seek help when they are sick, but for them, this was their reality, and a lot of them still have that distrust and fear that they lived through when they were younger. If we had more healthcare providers that favored them, I'm sure they would be more willing to seek care. This would decrease some of the chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes that have plagued the African-American community for so long. 

I love that athletes such as Lebron James have stepped up and said that “we don’t need more Lebron’s, but we need more scientists.” However, he alone cannot change the lack of representation in the medical career. He cannot change the stigma that becoming an Instagram model and rapper is the way to go. WE must change that negative connotation that that is all we can become. To those that are doing something positive, talk about it, spread the wealth to others, because you do not know whose perception you are changing. You do not know who you are impacting. Prior to PA school, my only goal was to graduate and be done with it. I could care less if I was helping others and expanding my experiences in this phenomenal career, but I know that I would have been an injustice and selfish if I didn’t help others and share my experiences with others. To those that are scared about what others might say, forget the naysayers and share your journey! The world needs more positivity in it. You do not know who’s watching.

--- Ambz XoXo

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