In the battle for health equity and social justice in the realm of medicine, Charles Drew University has served as a pillar in the Watts-Willowbrook community of Los Angeles.
In the groundbreaking documentary “Black men in white coats rise up!” recounting the history of medical education in the US, Dr. Dale Okorodudu highlights HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) contributions in training black medical professionals who often go on to practice medicine in urban underserved communities. In describing why there are so few HBCU’s training medical doctors today, Dr. Dale cites the fallout from the Flexner Report, which led to the closure of five of seven existing Black medical schools by 1923. The justifications for these closures have been the subject of vigorous debate over the years, with people citing quotes surrounding the report like “…African-American physicians should be trained in “hygiene rather than surgery” and should primarily serve as “sanitarians,” whose purpose was “protecting whites” from common diseases like tuberculosis.” as evidence of the explicit racial bias extant at the time the report was written. Even more damning, as Dr. Dale states in the documentary, is the fact that almost nothing was done after the closures of HBCUs to replace the massive gap their absence created. If the gravity of the blow to the black community is not clear, consider this fact; the two oldest HBCU medical schools, Meharry Medical College and Howard University, have combined to produce over 80% of African American doctors and dentists practicing in the United States today. This is the history that has brought us to where we stand.
On July 1st, 2021 the reality of this situation became part of my personal story as I began my Residency training in Family Medicine at Charles Drew University. Drew, an HBGI (historically black graduate institution) represents one of the few historically black institutions in existence today providing graduate medical education. As I’ve begun to absorb the training offered by CDU, and understand the central role this institution serves in the Watts-Willowbrook community of Los Angeles, I’ve become acutely aware of just how important understanding the full history of medicine is as we chart our path into the future. And I’ve become just as aware of the critical role this institution plays in providing an often ignored or obscured perspective on that history.
While many residency programs around the country start new interns training with onboarding and orientation, CDU has gone several steps further in preparing new interns to serve as Physicians that can truly understand and contribute to patient care in the community. Described as the “CDU Advantage” this institution provides training aimed at creating health professionals who a re diverse leaders dedicated to social justice and health equity, and primarily focused on underserved populations. Almost every day for the last month, the curriculum of our first rotation as interns has incorporated elements teaching us about the history of our community, and having frank open conversations about the unique challenges faced by those we will serve. Most importantly we are being taught how we can best administer the resources of our institution in addressing these needs.
Over the years I’ve chronicled my journey in medicine through blog and social media posts and videos. I’ve done this both as part of my efforts to function as a mentor and role model, but also as a personal exercise helping myself to make sense of this journey as I travel through it. In my residency personal statement, titled “branches in time”, I recognized that there are moments in each of our lives which definitively alter our paths, leading inexorably to our present. I called these moments “branch points” which can be seen if we imagine our lives as a great tree traced out from the roots of our past out to the ultimate bearing of fruit represented by our future. As I contemplate what it means to now be a part of CDU, I recognize what bears all the marking of a branch point in my life. During my residency interview with the CDU faculty and residents, I was struck by just how well the mission of the institution fit with what I’ve been trying to do for many years now. I could also see that here were people who were actually serious about their mission statement IRL (which is more rare than many people might realize). From where I stand, it’s clear that by getting deeply involved with this institution I will be able to grow and develop so much in my knowledge and approach.
I’ve counted my blessings many times over the years, with the knowledge that I have truly been lucky. It would seem that God is just getting started with me though. As I look forward and contemplate what the next three years hold for me, I am excited about the future. This residency program is most certainly a blessing, and for me it is a chance to roll up these white coat sleeves, and do some good. I’ll be sharing this journey both here and on social media, and I invite you to join.
To check out my day-to-day and reach out with questions, follow me and shoot a DM on Instagram or Facebook @doctordynamo
Best wishes everyone,
Yomi Adeyemi, MD, MS
PGY1, Family Medicine
Charles Drew University
(Please note: this article is posted in full with links to sources at www.africandynamo.com)
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