Duke Physicians Featured in 'Black Men in White Coats'

As the number of African-American medical students decline, two doctors tell success stories

Although the number of black men graduating from college continues to increase, the number of black men applying to medical school has dropped during the past 4 decades. Last year, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a report focused on this issue entitled, “Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine.” In it, the AAMC reports that in 2014 1,337 black males applied to medical school compared to 1,410 in 1978. And just under 4 percent of practicing physicians in the United States today are black, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in October 2015.

Despite the numerous obstacles facing black men pursuing medical careers, the AAMC notes that enrichment and mentoring programs can help.

This summer, Duke University School of Medicine partnered with DiverseMedicine Inc., to produce videos featuring two black physicians, Associate Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) Kevin Thomas, MD, and Kwadwo Adu Owusu-Akyaw, MD, an orthopaedic surgery resident. These videos are part of a series entitled “Black Men in White Coats.”

“The aim of the video series is to inspire more underrepresented minority students to consider the field of medicine by showing them the stories of others who’ve done so successfully,” says Dale Okorodudu, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who founded DiverseMedicine Inc. and “Black Men in White Coats” during his time as an Internal Medicine resident at Duke University. “Our mission is to increase ethnic and socioeconomic diversity within the field of medicine. For black men in particular, our aim is to show compelling stories of individuals they can identify with, and in doing so, demonstrate that there is no reason they can’t become medical doctors as well."

Diversity and inclusion are priorities for the Duke University School of Medicine, says Judy Seidenstein, the school’s chief diversity officer.  Duke University School of Medicine’s medical student classes are among the most diverse nationally. This year’s entering MD class comprises 119 students including 34 underrepresented minority students. The school promotes a holistic admissions process to enhance student diversity, and sponsors pipeline programs to enrich the applicant pools for medical school, residency and fellowship training, and ultimately faculty positions.

“Dean Nancy Andrews and school leaders feel strongly that diversity and inclusion are key drivers of institutional excellence, and they work to be intentional in tapping the widest and most diverse talent pools for students and faculty,” says Seidenstein. “Still, much more needs to be done.

“These videos are wonderful because they offer a glimpse into the lives of Dr. Thomas and Dr. Owusu-Akyaw and explore why they chose a career in medicine, the obstacles and challenges they have faced, and how they define success. We hope the compelling stories reflected in these videos will be an inspiration to individuals - especially young black men - who may not have previously considered a career in medicine as a possibility.”

Dr. Thomas was recently appointed assistant dean for underrepresented faculty development. Dr. Owusu-Akyaw is the co-founder of the Coalition of Black Physicians at Duke.