TV Medical Expert Dr. Sampson Davis on Mentoring Young Black Men and Women to Become Doctors
While Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they constitute a meager 4.4% of physicians and are an underrepresented minority in medicine. A fundamental component of the treatment process is the physician-patient relationship.
Growing up poor in Newark, New Jersey, Dr. Sampson Davis was constantly surrounded by drugs and criminal activity. After spending time in a juvenile detention facility, he realized that he wanted more for his life. He made a pact with his two best friends in high school that they would become doctors. Dr. Sampson’s mission today is to empower the next generation and bridge the medical doctor disparity in the African American communities.
BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with Dr. Davis to discuss his medical call to action of mentoring young black men and women to become doctors.
Why is diversity in medicine important?
Let me tell you…diversity is such a vital part of medicine! To have a doctor that resembles you or looks like you and who can relate to where you are coming from—increases a positive experience for the patient. And having a diverse group of doctors from different nationalities also increases the chances of us learning more and advancing medicine. No one person, race, or nationality is an island. So, for us to progress and move forward in medicine, we must increase the presence of doctors and healthcare professionals that reflect the community. Take African Americans, for instance: We make up 3% to 4% of doctors, yet only 13% to 14% of the population. Now that is a HUGE healthcare disparity. To tackle healthcare disparity, health inequities, and health inequalities, we have to increase the presence of Black and Brown doctors so that we reflect the same percentage of the community as we do within the medical profession.
How have things changed or improved for African American physicians in medicine during your career?
Well, that’s a very tough question. When I first started the pursuit of becoming a doctor, African Americans made up 3% of doctors, and 20 years later, we still make up 3% of doctors. So, not much has changed. I do feel that there is an open platform to discuss these issues now that it’s a bit more welcoming and favorable than it was when I first started. We, as African Americans, are underrepresented in healthcare. There is still a great deal of covert racism in medicine. No. No one is directly telling me that I don’t belong; but being subjected to various instances of microaggression has often made me feel uncomfortable in certain circumstances. Thank goodness I have the fortitude and stamina to fight the tide. But at the same time, there are moments where people come at you in a way that doesn’t make me feel good.
What were some of the struggles you faced in your pursuit of medicine?
One big struggle I faced was that I felt as if I didn’t belong. There was never any kind of welcoming committee or party that made me feel like I belonged. Granted, no one ever told me to my face, “you do not belong here,” but at the same time, the indirect, palpable feeling of not opening the door for me was always there and still exists to this day. I mean, it is very difficult for those in Black and Brown communities to pursue medicine because there are so many obstacles! There are financial, academic, or maybe not having anyone in your family who has ever been a physician or even a healthcare worker—that makes it foreign to you! I faced everything from academic to financial and social challenges. The mental stress of it all—of not feeling that sort of collegial atmosphere often made it difficult. I guess the best way to describe it is that when you walked into the room and the music was playing, it was never your music. You just sort of had to get in line, move to the beat and adjust. You had to be a chameleon of sorts. You had to walk and use certain maneuvers and positions that may not have been true to who you were, but at the same time, the goal at hand was to achieve and receive your degree and so you did it by all means necessary.
As someone who serves on the frontline and has seen firsthand the high mortality rate in the African American community, how are you coping with your mental health?
As we move, hopefully, past COVID, mental health is extremely important. It is under-discussed, services are underutilized, and we do not have a “one glove fits all” solution here. Diabetes is very tangible. If your blood sugar is high, you know you have diabetes. How do you wrap your arms around depression, anxiety, and Post-traumatic stress or Substance abuse? How do you wrap your hands around those things that seem to be intangible? Mental health seems to be a huge issue. For me, it is very important to stay in tune with that. COVID has been stressful; practicing medicine is very stressful in itself, minus COVID. For me, I do things that balance me. I need to take a vacation. It’s important for me to do things outside of medicine, like exercise and spend time with family and friends. I have a tremendous amount of faith and believe in God, so I worship my God as well. I do things that are enjoyable, such as watching movies and going out to dinner.
What initiatives is your foundation, “The Three Doctors,” providing in assisting young men and women of color in considering the medical field?
The Three Doctors Foundation—Wow! April makes 22 years! We formed this organization when we were residents, interns. We chuckled when we formed it because the only philanthropist we knew was student loans. The Three Doctors Foundation is the blood that runs through my veins. It’s something important to all three of us to provide something that we didn’t have growing up. It is important to serve as that face to health and education, simply because of what it does to a young mind—if they can do it, I can do it. We host events and programs throughout the year—everything from scholarship programs that we offer to positive peer pressure, where we challenge and inspire young people to do something positive in their group instead of negative. We have walk-a-thons in which we get out and walk to promote healthy lifestyles—you name it, we do everything. The most important thing that I feel that we as The Three Doctors serve, is the concrete, real-life, tangible image that this is possible. Although we are still underserved in the field of medicine, I have seen more Black and Brown young students understanding that they too can become a doctor. Just like anything else, oftentimes, the ambitions might be in other areas, but now they are seeing that they can make it happen.
To learn more about Dr. Sampson Davis and “The Three Doctors” foundation, visit www.drsampsondavis.com.