Rewriting the narrative of black Americans’ experiences in health care
In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting one of many Texas A&M Health students who are working toward a brighter future for patients of color in America. Michael Junior, Texas A&M College of Medicine Class of 2021, shares his experiences as a medical student and his vision for health care in America.
What inspired you to go into medicine?
Growing up, I watched my father struggle with his health due to diseases caused primarily by lifestyle choices. I observed from an early age that my father never trusted his physicians, and I believe this posed significant barriers to his health care. Unfortunately, my father’s distrust for medicine is not an isolated event, and many black patients share this same sentiment. I want to rewrite the narrative of the black patient’s experiences in health care. I believe I can foster a trusting relationship with black patients through our shared sense of identity, beliefs and experiences.
How do you hope to influence the health professions for the future?
I hope to increase the representation of black physicians in America by providing mentorship and more opportunities to explore health care for youths who come from areas traditionally lacking these resources. Seeing is believing, and little black girls and boys need to be able to see physicians who look and sound like them, so they too believe that becoming a physician is possible. As a future physician, I gladly accept the challenge of creating an environment among black youths in which becoming a physician isn’t just a thought but a reality.
What advice do you have for other students looking to pursue careers in the health professions?
Remember that your journey to medicine is unique to you, and that journey will build the foundation for your medical career. I encourage you to find your “why,” and use it as motivation throughout your journey, especially when your resiliency is being tested. Medicine is a rewarding field, and it is truly worth all the time and effort that you have already invested and will continue to invest throughout your journey.
Find a mentor who believes in your potential. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the many people who mentored me as a pre-medical student. It truly is hard navigating this system alone, so you need a team of people who will be dedicated to your success!
What does diversity and inclusion in health care mean to you?
I believe diversity in health care begins with a system of providers that reflects the diversity of the population we serve. Diversity encompasses so much more than just the color of our skin but should include the individual things that make us who we are as people such as gender identity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and, most importantly, our beliefs and life experiences.
There is no diversity without inclusion. In order to truly be an inclusive health care system, we must both acknowledge and embrace diversity among both our patients and our fellow health care professionals. Although progress has been made, medicine still has very traditional standards of professionalism as it relates to how physicians should look, speak, dress and carry themselves. As health care professionals, we must challenge ourselves to take a step back from these rigid ideals of what a physician should be and begin shifting our professional standards to meet the needs of an ever-changing American population. As health care professionals, we should be able to embrace each other as individuals because our individual experiences will allow us to relate to our patients on a more personal level. And when we are able to meet our patients where they are, we will be able to effect positive change for our patients and their health.
We are in an exciting time in medicine as medical schools are pushing to diversify their classes. This is moving medicine in the right direction as more and more students from diverse backgrounds are going into the medical profession. This will ensure a health care system with a multitude of providers of different backgrounds that are able to provide compassionate care for all patients—not just the ones that look like or think like them.
What challenges have you faced on this journey in medicine?
Throughout my journey in medicine, one of my biggest challenges has been navigating the complexities of the medical education system. Keeping up with the academic rigors of medical school alone is enough to keep you busy, but when you add in things such as research electives, scheduling away rotations (rotations at institutions outside Texas A&M) and standardized medical licensing examinations, things can very quickly become overwhelming. I do not believe that anyone is successful on their own, and I am no exception. Behind me on this journey stand myriad peers, mentors, professors and advisers who have helped propel me forward as I have walked the path of my journey in medicine.
What are your thoughts and/or hopes for communities of color in regards to their health care?
I hope that the black community is not only provided adequate access to quality health care, but that they are also treated with respect and compassion when they are receiving that care. It is imperative that black patients are able to foster not just a relationship with their providers but a partnership—a partnership where there is open communication to address the medical, psychological as well as social needs of the patient. I believe that patient education is essential to improving health outcomes among black patients. As a provider, through fostering a partnership built upon trust and education, I hope that my patients are able to take initiative and be proactive about their health care. As both a black male and a future physician, I hope to be a part of the generation that closes the gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans. These are complex multifactorial problems, and they will not be fixed overnight. However, these are my hopes for my community, and I am willing to dedicate my time and effort toward progress.