By Andrew D. Williams, OMS-III, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, COSGP National Diversity Representative
I graduated from a high school that served an economically disadvantaged area in a small town in Macon, Georgia, where approximately half of the students did not graduate on time and only a third were proficient in the sciences. I did not know how to study. I did not know what all it would take for me to become a physician. Beyond that, I did not know where the money was going to come from for me to attend college. Despite this, I had this burning passion to overcome the numerous challenges that this environment presented to pursue my dreams of becoming a physician.
See, for a majority of my life, I lived with an economic disadvantage. My family struggled as we had to live, for the most part, without a paycheck. I remember eating ketchup sandwiches because we could not afford the meat to put between the bread. I remember going to school during the cold winter months and being ridiculed because my hand-me-down clothes were ill fitted. I remember sharing a sofa with my mother and my brother and a bathroom with ten other relatives in one house.
I mention these things because, according to all statistics, I am supposed to be a failure in medical school. I am supposed to have earned a low board score. I am supposed to have struggled through my first two pre-clinical academic years. I am supposed to have barely made it through. On paper, I was the least likely to succeed. I mention these things because, oftentimes in the medical community, we accept, admit and favor people who already have all the pieces together. We positively view those with higher GPAs and MCAT scores, and negatively view those with lower numbers. We positively view those who come from a lineage of physicians and negatively view those who don’t even know how to apply to medical school. And in doing so, we overlook many beautiful roses that could grow from the concrete. I wonder, how many Student Government Association presidents are out there, how many voting members of the American Osteopathic Association House of Delegates are out there, how many innovative people are out there, and how many competitive, high board-scoring students are out there hurting because of a system that views early deficiencies as a permanent handicap to becoming a physician. I’m so thankful for the Dr. Cedric Bright’s of the world, the Dr. Michael Rice’s, Ms. Brandi Baker’s, Dean John Schriner’s, Dean Jody Gerome’s, Mrs. Jill Harman’s, Dean Kenneth Johnson’s, Dean William Burke’s, Dean Beth Longenecker’s, Dean Isaac Kirstein’s, Heritage College Class of 2022’s, and so many more that make sure that one, African American male with an MCAT score so low, funds so low, yet passions so high, achieves much in the medical profession. Look at all the support that it took for just one underrepresented minority in medicine from a much-challenged background to “make it.”
So, matriculating through medical school means more to me than just getting a doctoral degree. It means being a social change agent, it means being an advocate for more minority representation in the field of medicine, it means one day being a Black doctor in a white coat. As a future physician of color, I will be a role model to so many minority students seeking a career in medicine. I will have the chance to tell those coming behind me that there is not a demand of color in the field of medicine, but a demand of excellency of knowledge, excellency in the way we treat each other and excellency of service. I will be an example to those in the field of medicine that with a chance and proper exposure, those from much-challenged backgrounds who might not have had the best start in life can still achieve great things, such as becoming a physician.
I posit that the collective medical community should always strive to be “nevertheless people”; people never choosing the lesser thing but always striving toward the greater path. This means that there is hard work ahead for diversifying the medical community.
The minority population of medical education is a vital population to the implementation of the best delivery of health and human wellness. I believe that we all play a role in maintaining the concept of anti-racist medicine, anti-sexist medicine, anti-elitist medicine and ultimately anti-discriminative medicine. The task of repairing all the systemic and institutional discrepancies that disproportionately and negatively impact certain communities might be too large for any one group. However, each group can do their part. In the osteopathic profession, we believe in the philosophy and practice of whole-body medicine, medicine of the mind, body and spirit. At a time when many of our students’ communities and spirits are heartbroken, we must all lean in.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.