During Black History Month, we take a moment to deeply honor and reflect on the significant contributions and leadership roles that Black individuals, both past and present, have made in the realm of medicine. This month serves as a powerful reminder of their enduring legacy and the profound impact they have had on healthcare. Recognizing the importance of these contributions, we are dedicating each week to spotlight prominent Black members within the Doximity network. This week, we had the privilege of interviewing Frank Okosun, MD; Antonio Smith, MD; Joshua Anthony, MD, MBA; and Kelvin Pollard, MD
How does Black history influence your life as a physician?
Dr. Pollard - I look forward to Black History Month each year because it is an opportunity to look at how far we've come and how much further we have to go. I am motivated by all the great things accomplished by African American men and women who paved the way for me.
Dr. Smith - Black History gives me an opportunity to draw inspiration from providers that have made wonderful contributions to the field of medicine. Reflecting on the history of Black physicians in medicine gives me the courage to dream big and work toward a cause bigger than myself.
Dr. Okosun - Black History embodies the spirit of perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity. As a physician, I am faced with challenges and problems on a daily basis, so it encourages me to be steadfast to my goals and aspirations.
Dr. Anthony Black history not only influences my life as a physician but also profoundly influences my commitment to mental health care. It challenges me to be a better physician, advocate, and educator—one who recognizes the scars of the past, the resilience of the present, and the hope for a future where mental health equity is a reality for the Black community.
Why is it important to you that we celebrate Black History Month in medicine?
Dr. Pollard - Black History is American history. We are able to highlight all the great things African Americans have accomplished despite not having ideal conditions for success. It reminds me to keep striving for excellence as I too want to motivate and inspire those behind me to continue excelling and contributing to the betterment of society at large. This month is useful to dismantle bias, racism, and microaggressions.
Dr. Smith - It's a great opportunity to explore the many accomplishments Black physicians have made throughout history.
Dr. Okosun - There has been a lot of disparities in healthcare outcomes and representation in Healthcare which needs to be addressed so putting the spotlight on Black History Month is one step in the right direction.
Dr. Anthony Celebrating Black History Month in medicine is very important to me for several reasons, each rooted in the recognition of past contributions, the acknowledgment of current disparities, and the inspiration for future generations.
What has your journey been like as a Black physician?
Dr. Pollard - My path to medicine was challenging yet fulfilling. Initially, advice from a mentor made me question my dream of becoming a Physician, especially as a first-generation college student unaware of the necessary steps to become competitive. My lack of clinical experience led me to the Church Health Clinic in Memphis, TN, where I embraced the philosophy of treating individuals, not just diseases. This experience, along with a medical mission trip to Haiti, solidified my ambition to pursue medicine with a focus on cultural competence and patient-centered care. After gaining teaching and leadership experience in inner-city Memphis, I joined Meharry Medical College, overcoming personal hardships including my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and my nephew's tragic death. I chose Internal Medicine, completed my residency at Saint Louis University, and now serve as an Assistant Professor of Medicine and hold several leadership roles. This journey, though often isolating, has been immensely rewarding.
Dr. Smith - It has been arduous yet rewarding. Without the love and support of my peers, family, and mentors, I cannot say with confidence that I'd be in the position I am today. Overall, I am grateful for the challenges and triumphs the road has presented to me, for they have certainly fortified my character and have given me resilience.
Dr. Okosun -
It has been an interesting and challenging one, but it feels fulfilling to be able to help people recover from illness and be the best versions of themselves.
Dr. Anthony - My journey as a Black physician has been one of profound learning, resilience, and advocacy, marked by both challenges and triumphs. It has been a path where the weight of history and the promise of the future converge, shaping a career dedicated not just to healing but to breaking down barriers and building bridges.
What can we do to support Black individuals pursuing or interested in pursuing medicine?
Dr. Pollard - Early exposure is key. It is difficult to become something you have never seen. Volunteer or sponsor early exposure programs. Be strategic about recruiting and retaining diverse candidates. Be an ally, call out microaggressions and biases.
Dr. Smith - Mentorship and community building are paramount in supporting individuals pursuing medicine. These are the two pillars that have gotten me this far.
Dr. Okosun - Mentorship is key from an early stage, so identify a mentor or group of mentors who are well versed and renowned in medicine, and networking among medical professionals is definitely helpful in navigating the difficult landscape of medicine.
How is Doximity helping you?
Dr. Pollard - Doximity is helping me to step out of my comfort zone, network, and tell my story.
Dr. Smith - The Doximity Digital Health Fellowship is an excellent opportunity to establish myself as a thought leader within the health space. I am also able to network with very talented and forward-thinking individuals thanks to Doximity.
Dr. Okosun - Doximity is helping provide a platform to discuss critical issues and accelerate networking among medical professionals while also providing great information in the form of articles and journals.
Dr. Anthony - Doximity has helped me the most through its easy to access directory of physicians that I know personally and those I would like to reach out to.
Can you discuss a recent achievement or advancement within the Black medical community that you find inspiring?
Dr. Smith - In 2019, Patrice A. Harris, M.D. was inaugurated as the 174th president of the AMA, becoming the first African-American woman to hold office.
Dr. Okosun - Dr. Bennett Omalu, renowned Pathologist for discovering Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy among football players, a story that was depicted in the movie "Concussion". He stood by his work and research despite opposition from the NFL and sports organizations.
Are there any organizations you would like to highlight?
Dr. Pollard - The Student National Medical Association is a great organization that is doing great work with helping to recruit and retain diverse applicants to medical school. I am beyond proud of the Saint Louis University SNMA chapter for hosting a successful regional meeting.
Dr. Okosun - National Medical Association, NAACP
Are there any historical figures or current leaders that you want to acknowledge?
Dr. Smith - Dr. Patricia Bath invented laserphaco, a technique to remove cataracts. Alexa Irene Canady, MD, was the first African-American woman neurosurgeon. Ben Carson was one of the first neurosurgeons to successfully separate conjoined twins with fused brains. Charles Drew pioneered blood plasma storage methods for transfusion and set up the first large-scale blood bank in America.
Dr. Okosun - Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Malcolm X, Barack Obama
Is there anything you'd like to say?
Dr. Pollard - My ultimate goal is to be a patient-centered, culturally competent physician and mentor. I enjoy mentoring the next generation of diverse Physicians and taking care of diverse patient populations. I want to ensure that medical care is equitable, affordable, and tailored for the individual patient.
Keep an eye out for further insights from our community members as they share their unique experiences and perspectives throughout Black History Month.