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Panel Discussion Examines Roadblocks to Becoming a Doctor

February 15, 2024

At the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, an impactful movie screening brought together a panel of HHC providers to discuss ways to bring awareness and change to the obstacles facing Black men (and women) in their path to becoming doctors.

Dale Okorodudu, MD, a critical care specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, started Black Men in White Coats, a movement which includes short videos, a podcast and events, to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in U.S. medical schools. He is an executive producer on the documentary, which examines how the white coat represents a glass ceiling for Black men and how it impacts community health. He attended the screening, which was held as part of Hartford HealthCare’s observance of Black History Month.

In 1900, when 11.6% of the nation’s population was Black, 1.3% of physicians were Black. In 1940, when 9.7% of the total population was Black, 2.8% of physicians were Black — 2.7% of were Black men and 0.1% were Black women.

By 2018, when 12.8% of the total population was Black, 5.4% of U.S. physicians were Black — 2.6% Black men and 2.8% Black women. So, the proportion of Black male doctors hasn’t increased in over 120 years. This was the impetus for change.

The film, “Black Men in White Coats,” touches on how some health outcomes were previously blamed on genetics or personal responsibility. Now, there is an understanding that health outcomes can depend more on the neighborhood where you live rather than the code of your DNA.

Life expectancy in the impoverished North End of Hartford, for example is 10 years less than in more affluent West Hartford, just 4.3 miles away.

After showing the documentary, Dr. Okorodudu and a panel of Hartford Hospital doctors, moderated by Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, chief of psychiatry at Hartford Hospital and chair of psychiatry at the Institute of Living, discussed how Hartford HealthCare supports diversity and how their backgrounds affect their own lives and careers.

Dr. Okorodudu also points out that having doctors who look like their patients, much like students having teachers who look like them, improves health outcomes for individual patients and communities.

Top takeaways

  • Fewer than 6% of doctors are Black. Whether it is lack of community support, the high cost of education or other barriers, a host of challenges have led to lower numbers of Black people in the medical field.
  • The importance of role models. Hartford Hospital emergency physician Cynthia Price, MD, said she works hard to be visible in the Black community. “We have professional jobs, my children call them ‘shiny’ jobs,” Dr. Price said. “But I still get my hair done in North Hartford and might grab food there at a Jamaican patty storefront.”
  • The need for mentorship and support before medical school, during residency and in established practice. Kesley Joseph, MD, Department of Medicine, Hartford Hospital, said support might include scholarships for medical education and leadership skills training and other development opportunities once doctors are in practice.
  • Linking workforce diversity to health equity. Trevor Sutton, MD, Department of Anesthesia, Hartford Hospital, recognized Hartford HealthCare’s efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
    “We need to elevate the conversation, and link the interest in diversity to health equity,” Dr. Sutton said. “People engaged in this work will rise to the top of an equitable, diverse learning community.”

Black Men in White Coats was co-sponsored by the HHC departments of Academic Affairs, Human Experience and the Center for Equity, as well as the Hartford Hospital Department of Medicine. Similar screenings are planned across our system later this year.

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