African American Women Make Up Only 2% Of America’s Doctors

3 ways we can change the face of medicine

Award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist Crystal Emery
Award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist Crystal Emery

Crystal Emery, award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist, worries about our children; especially our girls, because they aren’t seeing themselves represented as physicians when they visit the doctor’s office or the emergency room. Only 2% of the United States’ doctors are African American women, says Emery, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Why, in 2015, are only 2% of the medical doctors in the United States African American women?  More importantly, how can we increase the number and change the face of medicine?

[RELATED: Decline in Black Male Physicians Could Impact African American Health, Wellness]

According to Emery, there is one key component to getting more African American women to become doctors; we must start with our children. Building foundations for education as early as possible is imperative for successful goal planning. There are programs aimed at getting more girls and women into STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — and the sooner young girls start these programs, the more prepared they are for college with knowledge and possibly scholarships.

To that end, Emery has created the Changing The Face Of Medicine Initiative.  It started highlighting a problem we have today (low numbers of African American women as doctors in the U.S.) and then Emery noticed we can’t tell the story of today without including the ancestors. The next move was trying to figure out what was next for the African American women who were coming on our heels.

Changing the Face of Medicine Initiative includes:

During Emery’s National Education Tour she gives a roadmap as to how we can better prepare our girls for careers as physicians.

Here are three ways Emery suggests.

  1. Read to your children. Making reading and learning a daily ritual will build their love of learning and establish the practice; not as a chore, but as a way of life.
  2. Get them help. If your children are in need of a tutor or a mentor, seek help for them. Some parents have literacy issues that they aren’t able to admit to and, thus, don’t seek someone else to help their children.  Now is the time to get your child the help they need, and you should also reach out to get help for yourself.
  3. Positive nurturing. Words and affirmations of your children’s future (and present) greatness is imperative. Letting children know you are interested and invested in their dreams and goals goes a long way towards helping them reach their fullest potential.

In addition to Emery’s observations, she has also put into practice making sure young ladies are being groomed for future physician positions. Emery’s book and subsequent tour for the book features ‘future doctors’ as young as five years old. These future doctors are featured in her book, Against All Odds: Celebrating Black Women In Medicine, and are on tour at the book signings.

You can find Emery, current select African American physicians and future doctors from Against All Odds, at their next stops in January at Johns Hopkins Medical School and Temple Medical School; in February in Atlanta; and March at New School Parsons. For more specific information please contact their team by clicking here.

I, personally, experienced the inspirational effect Emery’s future doctors had when I  was invited to attend the New York City event this month. My 5-year-old daughter was in attendance with me and was amazed that there were children there aspiring to be doctors, just like her. It furthered a conversation we have been having about her future, and she indeed saw a world filled with African American women and girls who didn’t think her dreams were silly or unimportant.

To Emery’s point of “you can’t be what you can’t see,” taking the time to read about these amazing African American women gives us a chance to see how bright and accomplished we can be. We can be it because Emery is helping us see it.