SNMA and ODEI Spotlight Black UK Physician-Leaders

The UK College of Medicine chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) is commemorating Black History Month by curating educational information about the Black community's impact in medicine.

This week, SNMA conducted a Q&A with five Black physician-leaders who either currently work or have worked at the UK College of Medicine to learn their perspectives on medicine and how we can continue to improve.

Questions

1) What or who played a major role in inspiring you to go into medicine?

2) What does Black History Month mean to you?

3) Where do you envision the greatest impact of increasing representation in medicine would be?

4) What advice would you give to your younger self, still early in their journey into the medical field?

Wendy JacksonWendy L. Jackson, MD
Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Associate Dean for Admissions, UK College of Medicine
 
Medical School: UK College of Medicine
Residency: UK College of Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Fellowship: University of Louisville, Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology

  1. My mother is the person who challenged me to consider medicine as a career, specifically obstetrics and gynecology. I was asked by a substitute teacher in my sophomore year of high school what I was going to do in two years when I graduated… I had no idea. When I went home that evening and asked my mom her opinion, she suggested OB/GYN. She said women will always have babies so I would always have a job. It made sense to me, so I went for it. I had no idea how long the journey was or how competitive the selection process would be, or even how expensive it costs to attend medical school; maybe ignorance was bliss. Over time, my vision of a career in medicine morphed. As I trudged along trying to get to “Medicine”… I was exposed to so much more. I learned that it was not going to be job security for me…it was going to be the answer to a calling. I am a product of a teen pregnancy. I come from poverty. I am first generation. I am underrepresented. I was not supposed to have medicine on my list of career choices. But the more exposed I was to the profession, the more fascinated I became. Despite these barriers, I was going to get to “Medicine.” What started off as a comment about a career that sounded intriguing became a dream. To be in such a unique position to care for those in need is an honor. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to serve.
     
  2. Black History Month is significant to me because it is applicable to my life. Though I focus on the image I portray as an African-American female every day of my life, this month is a time that I can pause, that the whole country has to pause, and acknowledge those who have contributed.   
     
  3. I am biased, but I feel the greatest impact of increasing representation in medicine is in medical school admissions. This increase, in theory, could allow for an overall increase in the number of African American/Black physicians.
     
  4. Advice to my younger self would be so many things. 
    • Take undergraduate studies even more seriously than what I did. (However, I was serious at baseline.)
    • Keep reading…read more…read faster!
    • Be proactive.
    • Advocate for yourself.
    • Ask lots of questions.
    • Ask to be more involved!
    • Speak up.
    • Do not be passive.

 

Peter AkpunonuPeter Akpunonu, MD, FAAEM, FFSEM, FACEP
Assistant Professor, Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology
Co-Medical Director, Emergency Medicine
Director, Medical Toxicology
Director, Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine
University of Kentucky Hospital

Medical Director, Kentucky Poison Control Center
Louisville, Ky.
 
Medical School: University of Toledo
Residency: University of Kansas, Emergency Medicine
Fellowship: Oregon Health Science University, Medical Toxicology

  1. My parents are physicians, and they encouraged me to go into medicine. My mother was the first Black female urologist in Ohio, and my father is a vice chair of medicine. Their success encouraged me and showed me that success is possible for me.  
     
  2. Every month is Black History Month. Our contributions to the United States and the world cannot be confined to one month. However, this is a month in which we focus more on the accomplishments of Blacks. 
     
  3. Mentorship. As we succeed and more of us enter the ranks of medicine, we can encourage others to join us not only in medicine, but nursing, pharmacy, law, and engineering. 
     
  4. Work hard and take the opportunities given to you. I would not be where I am if I had not said, "yes" to some opportunities that increased my workload and put me in uncomfortable positions.

 

Ima EbongIma Ebong, MD, MS
Assistant Professor of Neurology
Director of Diversity and Inclusion
Department of Neurology

Medical School: UK College of Medicine
Residency: Jackson Memorial Hospital, Neurology
Fellowship: University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Clinical Neurophysiology

  1. There were many people who played a role in inspiring me to go into medicine. My parents saw from an early age that I gravitated toward math and science, so they encouraged me to excel in those courses. My primary school and high school teachers at Xavier’s Lower School and St. Augustine’s College in Nassau, Bahamas, also took special note of my talents in those subject areas and pushed me throughout those years. Finally, my undergraduate and graduate years studying biomedical engineering and bioengineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology showed me that while I appreciated the critical thinking and analytical skills I acquired, life as an engineer was not for me. I wanted to use those learned skills to help patients – specifically to diagnose and treat their diseases and bring comfort to them and their families.
     
  2. As a Black Bahamian woman of Bahamian and Nigerian parentage, Black History Month is a time for me to honor the accomplishments of Africans and Africans of the Diaspora. It is also a time to reflect on the trials and atrocities Black people have suffered across the globe and to teach others who may not know about the dark history so that there may be reconciliation, and also that these cruel acts are never again committed in the future.
     
  3. I envision the greatest impact in increasing representation in medicine would be seen in improved health outcomes for our patients. As a neurologist, I am dismayed that currently fewer than 3% of neurologists are Black or African American, yet Black or African American people comprise approximately 13% of the U.S. population. There is evidence of racial disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of many neurological illnesses, including epilepsy and stroke. Racism – particularly systemic racism –  is among the root causes of health disparities, along with socioeconomic status, education, housing, access to health care, etc. Increasing the number of underrepresented groups in medicine would positively impact the medical education of students and trainees regardless of race, as they will become more tolerant, compassionate, and caring physicians, and this would ultimately benefit the care of their patients.
     
  4. Take breaks. Call family and friends often. Let them know how much you love them. Work will always be there, but family and friends will not always be around. My mother died when I was 25 years old – before I started medical school. However, she became ill while I was in graduate school. I would do anything to go back in time and have one more telephone conversation with her.

 

Wanda GonsalvesWanda C. Gonsalves, MD
Founder and Director KYSU Undergraduate Pre-Medical Academy (KUMA) - A program whose goal is to increase minorities in medicine by working at Kentucky State University, an HBCU.
(*Retired in 2019 as faculty in UK Department of Family and Community Medicine*)
 
Medical School: UK College of Medicine
Residency: UK College of Medicine, Family Medicine

  1. I graduated from the University of Louisville in 1975 with a BS in dental hygiene. Why dental hygiene? I always loved science in high school, but no one in my family had been a doctor. I never dreamed that this was something I could do. After getting my teeth cleaned for the first time, it seemed like a good thing to do. But finding a job was not easy. Most dentists would not hire a Black hygienist, so for this reason, I decided to consider medicine. And with a husband and two young children, I started on that path of becoming a physician.
     
  2. For me, Black History Month is kind of bittersweet. Meaning, it’s sad that there needs to be a designated time that we showcase our achievements placed into one month out of the year, when our history should have been part of American history from the beginning. As of today, children in some of our schools are still not learning African American history and contributions. In fact, some states are continuing to fight to keep it out. I suppose, this is our next best opportunity for the world to learn about the wonderful contributions of African American people in all facets of humanity.
     
  3. The greatest impact will come from the resultant decrease in health disparities for minorities!
     
  4. My advice would be to find a mentor. That someone who has done what you think you might want to do, but were too afraid to pursue your dreams because you thought medicine would be too hard. I would tell them that I had a husband and two young children. If I could do it, they could too.

 

Dwan PerryDwan Perry, DO
Assistant Professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Medical School: West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
Residency: University of Kentucky, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Fellowship: Virginia Tech/VCOM, Primary Care Sports Medicine

  1. I believe my family played a large role for my interest in medicine during high school. Being an advocate for my family in rural West Virginia was foremost in my mind. I wanted to make sure they had access to an advocate. This advocacy expanded to more than my own family, but it allows a chance to be a guiding voice while patients make decisions. This is true when I receive calls from family members hours away as my career choice allows me to advocate for them as a voice they trust.
     
  2. Black History Month is a bittersweet time. On one hand, it is a celebration of Black excellence and a way to highlight the numerous contributions that African Americans have accomplished since the country’s inception. On the other hand, it is a reminder that African American history IS American History, from Crispus Attucks (first person killed in the American Revolution) to the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris in 2021. The struggles and successes of African Americans in the USA should not only be relegated to the month February.
     
  3. Increasing representation in medicine allows for a deeper empathy when treating patients. It allows this empathy to propagate through our colleagues in the health care system as they see a different perspective. It also allows for a possibility of renewed trust in medicine by African Americans. The greatest impact, as a patient, is knowing your physician may understand you and be able to empathize with you.
     
  4. I would tell him to study and prepare for the opportunities that will appear. Be bold and confident in his knowledge and skillset. Your perspective and unique experiences matter as to how you will uniquely deliver care. Don’t stop.