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More than 200 students from Tulsa Public Schools traveled to Hillcrest Healthcare System on November 1 as part of the Black Men in White Coats youth summit.
With a mission to increase the number of Black men in the field of medicine through exposure, inspiration and mentoring, a local chapter of the organization had students trading in their backpacks for a lab coat.
Despite making up roughly 12% of the population, Black Americans in general account for only 5% of doctors nationwide, and Black men account for only 2%.
The recent event featured hands-on clinical stations, panel discussions, a networking lunch and a keynote address by Dr. Chris McNeil, founder of the Tulsa chapter for Black Men in White Coats.
“My expectations were exceeded beyond belief. The event had many moving parts and components that would have not been possible without so many amazing individuals going above and beyond the call of duty for these kids,” Dr. McNeil told The Black Wall Street Times.
Black Men in White Coats breaks down disparities
Teachers, counselors and Hillcrest executives successfully came together to provide an experience worthy enough to hold a teenager’s attention, Dr. McNeil said.
“Once they arrived, the experience had to captivate them for four hours to engage in what life could be as a medical professional. Hearing them talk with each other and with other medical professionals at lunch was all the confirmation I needed that we had achieved our initial mission to expose the students to a fraction of what they are capable of,” Dr. McNeil added.
The national chapter of Black Men in White Coats formed after a 2013 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges showed the already low numbers of Black applicants were decreasing.
Meanwhile, Dr. McNeil founded the Tulsa chapter in 2020 when Dr. Dale Okurududu urged him to take on the initiative following a screening of the BMWC documentary during his final year in medical school. With support from mentors and colleagues, Dr. McNeil formed a chapter out of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in affiliation with the OU-TU School of Community Medicine.
More Black Americans entering medical school nationally
Collecting data on the number of Black male physicians across the state, Dr. McNeil’s work soon led him to hosting more BMWC events at Tulsa’s Ascension St. John health center and Union Public Schools.
“Students need to be exposed to multiple options for careers. Good grades and school marks must be celebrated just as much and often as touchdowns and layups,” Dr. McNeil said.
Notably, in an unprecedented spike, Black student enrollment at medical schools soared 21% since 2020, according to a report from Boston’s local NPR station GBH.
“We have never seen such an increase within a short amount of time,” said Norma Poll-Hunter, a leader of workforce diversity efforts at the Association of Medical Colleges. Her data shows patients are more likely to report satisfactory care when they can see themselves in the doctors who care for them.
For Black Men White Coats Tulsa’s Dr. McNeil, however, those positive numbers aren’t necessarily reflected equally across all states. For starters, it’s difficult to ascertain racial data on physicians in Oklahoma.
“While the statistic is exciting, the work that has been done up to this point lets us know that the data is much more integrated and complex than matriculation rates at one point in time, especially as it pertains to Oklahoma,” Dr. McNeil said. “Now is not the time to become complacent especially as we only graduated four MDs in the same year that may or may not have left the state.”
Reversing low rates of Black male doctors
To make matters traumatically worse, Tulsa lost one of its most distinguished Black doctors during a mass shooting in June. The assailant, a Black man upset about back pain following a surgery, returned to the Natalie Medical Building on the Saint Francis medical campus to attack his own doctor. Forty-Five-year-old Michael (Michelet) Louis killed Dr. Preston J. Phillips and three others before taking his own life.
When it comes to increasing the number of Black physicians in the field, Dr. McNeil said it starts at home.
“Exposure and support are key. The pathway to become a Heisman candidate is much easier to see in Oklahoma than becoming a healthcare professional because of how the pathway is portrayed, but the vision for the future starts at home.”
Ultimately, Black Men in White Coats’s mission aims to empower Black communities and Oklahomans in general.
If no doctors are recruited from our Black communities, the community continually loses its ability to be self-sufficient,” Dr. McNeil said.
“Each physician supports over 17 jobs nationwide and closer to 12 jobs in Oklahoma. The net value that a physician creates in Oklahoma is roughly $2 million, so if we are actively looking to build wealth in areas and keep Oklahomans healthy and in the workforce, we should consider a neighborhood and community approach to recruiting more healthcare professionals through building an affinity to the career at an early age.
To learn more about job shadowing and other opportunities, email BMWC918@gmail.com or visit blackmeninwhitecoats.org.