'Black Men in White Coats' encourages diversity in health care
Posted November 18, 2016
Achieving racial diversity is a priority in many professions, but the number of African-American medical students is actually declining.
African-Americans represent 13 percent of the United States population but only 3 percent of practicing physicians. But Duke University is working to inspire more to pursue that dream.
Many children dream of being doctors when they grow up. Duke cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Kevin Thomas turned that dream into reality.
"I think it's a sense of pride, there's a sense of responsibility," Thomas said.
Thomas is featured in a national campaign called Black Men in White Coats. The campaign is a way to inspire children whose race is under-represented in health care.
Duke's Chief Diversity Officer Judy Seidenstein says being more inclusive is a priority at Duke Medicine.
"At one point in time, it was either diversity or excellence," Seidenstein said. "But in fact, what research shows now is that diversity drives excellence."
That's why Duke has long hosted a summer medical school for minority graduates in college science programs. Even middle school groups visit Duke Medical School for hands-on learning experiences.
"(The visits) motivate them and inspire them to let them know that their dreams are things that really can come true," Thomas said. "It requires hard work and sacrifice."
But those students don't necessarily have to become doctors. The program encourages students who aspire to other positions within medicine, such as nursing or research.
Thomas says a more diverse medical staff adds to the quality of health care.
"To all patients, not just certain populations, not to just those individuals who have insurance—to all patients," Thomas said.
Thomas now works with patients in clinical care, in research and in administrative roles. He also works with under-represented faculty members to help them reach their career potential.
"I think that's really important for me, to mentor a lot of individuals, to give them a lot of opportunities just as they were given to me," Thomas said.