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Black Men in Medicine 2023: Growing the Ranks of Black Male Doctors and Students is the Top Priority of This Katz School Conference

News December 14, 2023

Attendees at the Black Men in Medicine Conference

The fifth annual Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Black Men in Medicine conference, held November 14 in the MERB (Medical Education and Research Building) lobby and neighboring auditorium, drew a diverse audience comprised of pre-med students and students, faculty, and program directors from many of the city’s medical schools.

A conference sign signifies the Black Men in Medicine EventThe conference is part of the Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s efforts to recruit, support, retain, and advance high-quality medical students from historically underrepresented backgrounds in medicine and specifically address the ongoing shortage of Black men in medicine.

As recently as 2019, Black male medical students accounted for just 2.9 percent of the national medical student body. And that percentage has remained consistent for the last four decades. However, Black students made up 10 percent of first-year medical students in the 2022-23 school year, an increase of 9.5 percent from 2020-21, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. (The comparison was made between those years because “the 2021-2022 academic year data revealed a record-setting and atypical 18 percent increase of medical school applicants during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the organization said.) And the number of Black men from this group increased by five percent.

Despite these modest gains, Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, the Marjorie Joy Katz Dean of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, George S. Peters, MD, and Louise C. Peters Chair and Professor of Surgery, and Surgeon-in-Chief of the Temple University Health System, said in her address to the Black Men in Medicine audience, “Black men remain underrepresented in the medical field. And this is not just a matter of diversity, it is a matter of life or death,” alluding to mounting research that suggests that healthcare providers who share their patients’ cultural background often have an easier time establishing trust and understanding.

“The disparities in healthcare outcomes for Black communities can be mitigated by increasing the number of Black male doctors,” Dr. Goldberg said. “Our shared responsibility is to break down the barriers that hinder aspiring Black men from pursuing careers in medicine. It is our duty to create pathways for success, to mentor and support, and to foster an environment where every individual, regardless of their background, can aspire to be a healer, a caregiver, and a leader in the medical field.”

‘It Shows Me That I Have a Place Within Medicine’

One of the conference’s main objectives is to help participants, particularly those in the early phases of their medical education, develop a network for support, mentorship, and advocacy. 

Manuel Sackey, a second-year student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and one of the conference’s organizers, said that while he’s felt “really supported at the school,” he likely wouldn’t have made it this far without mentors.

As a first-generation Ghanaian American, he was left to navigate his undergraduate education largely on his own. Through a Ghanaian organization, Sackey was connected to an emergency medicine physician in the Midwest who helped him prepare his medical school application and coached him on the application process. They continue to talk regularly, with Sackey asking him about concepts from his studies he's struggling to grasp and more general questions about “how to approach my doctoring skills or clinical reasoning.”

Nick Madamidola attended last year’s conference as a pre-med student working in clinical research at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He said the experience helped him better understand “what medicine is like and what being a Black man in medicine is about.

“Temple does a great job of recruiting a relatively diverse class compared to other institutions,” said Madamidola, who is now in his first year at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and helped organize this year’s conference. “That said, there’s definitely something special about walking into a space with so many Black men in healthcare because it’s not common.”

Roberto Rosario, a fourth-year student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, helped organize the last two conferences. He confided to this year’s audience that he had never seen two Black male doctors in the same room until he was a 30-year-old medical student.

“It’s honestly such a foreign feeling,” he said of being among a large group of Black male physicians and medical students. “To be a part of that, it's really reaffirming that my race and ethnicity are not going to hold me back in a future career. It shows me that I have a place within medicine.”

What It Means to Be a Black Man in Medicine

Menachem Leasy, MD, Vice Chair of Family and Community Medicine and Associate Professor of Clinical Family and Community Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine was the keynote speaker. He shared his long, winding, and often demoralizing path to medical school.Attendees network and socialize at the Black Men in Medicine 2023 event

Before being accepted to a trial program and ultimately, medical school at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, Dr. Leasy had taken the MCAT four times and been denied entrance to medical school three times over five years. He worked various jobs, sometimes three at a time, and studied for the exam every chance he got to keep his dream of becoming a doctor alive, a dream he’d had since he was 11.

“As excruciating as that was, as painful as those five years were, it was one of the best things that happened to me,” Dr. Leasy said. “Because during that time, I was building character. I was building up my armor, sharpening my blade. So, by the time I actually got into medical school, the work kind of felt downhill I just felt like nothing they were going to put in front of me was going to stop me. I was just going to handle it.”

Evidence of that mindset emerged when an uncle asked him, what it was like to be a Black doctor shortly after he’d started his residency. “Do you feel like people are looking at you differently?” the uncle asked.

Dr. Leasy replied, “Honestly, when I walk into a room and introduce myself, and I start talking, and people know that I’m a very serious person who’s serious about his job and seriously knows what he’s doing, any of those misperceptions just kind of go away. What I found is, if I can keep up and do the work that everyone else is doing, then I’m fine.”

A moderated discussion followed, during which audience members shared anecdotes and advice on topics ranging from combatting stereotypes to being vulnerable.

In response to a prompt about what it meant to be a Black man in medicine, Ikemefuna “Ike” I. Akusoba, MD, FACS, FASMBS, a surgeon and Director of Student Advocacy and Community Engagement at the Katz School of Medicine St. Luke’s campus, responded, “You have a lot of people that look at you differently that don’t necessarily think you deserve to be where you are. You’ll walk into a patient’s room, and someone will be like, ‘Can you throw away that trash?’ or “Can you hand me that tray?’ And you do those things because you’re a nice person. I’m a nice person. I’m never going to deny anybody anything. But then I’m like, ‘I’m Dr. Akusoba, your surgeon.’ And then all the sudden it’s like, ‘Oh, shoot. I messed up.’ You can see it on the patient’s face. But I don’t hold that against anyone. That’s the culture, unfortunately, that we grew up in. And that’s what we’re still fighting for. We’re still fighting to be in the same place as everybody else. We definitely belong. And we’re going to continue to fight to get that recognition.”

‘You’re Their Path Forward’

Dr. Corneilius "Neil" D. PittsCorneilius “Neil” D. Pitts, PharmD, the founder of the Zion Cares community ministry and an Assistant Professor at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine Center for Urban Bioethics, was presented with the Black Men in Medicine Award.

Having grown up three blocks from the school’s campus, he thanked the many African American doctors who once populated the neighborhood and acted as mentors for residents like him. He also acknowledged the all-Black staff of the former Mercy-Douglass Hospital, where he trained in the 1970s.

Beyond expressing his gratitude, Dr. Pitts was also painting a vivid picture of what the local healthcare landscape used to look like. Black doctors were everywhere in some neighborhoods. To achieve parity today, that needs to happen again, he said.

“The medical students that sit here today, I would challenge you to make sure that you go into the schools, you go into the churches where career days are held so that you can be seen,” Dr. Pitts said. “There are people who are 11 years old, and they want to be doctors, but they don’t see a path forward. You’re their path forward.”

Despite the relentless demands of medical school, all three conference organizers, Sackey, Madamidola, and Rosario, said they’re committed to furthering the cause.

“I’m definitely about paying it forward,” Sackey said. “I even have my own group of mentees coming up, applying to medical school. I’ve been able to help a couple of them secure admissions during the last application cycle.”

Madamidola, a cellist, taught third- and fourth-grade cello students last year. As the year progressed and he got to know them better, he observed that their world was only as large as their perception of it. In other words, if they didn’t know about it, it may as well not exist.

The experience is one of the reasons he joined the Lewis Katz School of Medicine chapter of the Student National Medical Association, which prioritizes having a presence in the surrounding community, especially in schools.

“We want those kids to know that if this is something they’re interested in, it’s something they can do,” Madamidola said. “Obviously, it’s a very, very long road to becoming a doctor. There are a lot of barriers. A lot. And they're probably not going away anytime soon, so you're going to need help. That's what all this is about because that’s how we can increase the number of Black physicians in general, and especially Black male physicians.”