Black Women Physicians’ Stories Have Gone Untold for Far Too Long
February 10, 2023
A Q&A with Jasmine Brown
No real account of Black women physicians in the US exists, and what little mention is made of these women in existing histories is often insubstantial or altogether incorrect. In her literary debut, Twice As Hard, Jasmine Brown offers a rich new perspective, penning the long-erased stories of nine pioneering Black women physicians beginning in 1860, when a Black woman first entered medical school. Brown tells the stories of these doctors from the perspective of a Black woman in medicine. Her journey as a medical student already has parallels to those of Black women who entered medicine generations before her. Beacon Press senior publicist Bev Rivero caught up with her to chat about it.
Bev Rivero: You share that the victories of these women shape you. Can you talk about the positive impact the research you did, that turned into this book, had on your career decisions?
Jasmine Brown: In college, I dreamed of becoming a physician and a national leader who would make a positive impact in many people’s lives. But I was acutely aware of how few Black women there were in senior positions within the medical field, such as the dean of a medical school or chair of a medical department. Black women physicians are even underrepresented at the level of professorship in many medical schools. So, I worried that my career would be severely restricted by a glass ceiling imposed upon me due to my race and gender.
But learning about the women in my book gave me a sense of freedom. These women faced significant social and structural barriers that made their dreams seem impossible, but through unwavering persistence and help from their support systems, they made their dreams a reality. Many of them were the first Black woman to reach certain milestones. Their stories taught me that I don’t have to be limited by a theoretical glass ceiling. Even if my path is riddled with many obstacles, I can still achieve my dreams.
BR: What actions would you like readers who are outside the fields of medicine/public health to take away from reading your book?
JB: In recent years, there has been more discussion about the exclusion of Black folks across various industries, including business, law, academia, and entertainment. We are underrepresented in these spaces. And the Black folks who have made it into these industries face significant wage gaps and are rarely promoted to high levels of leadership within their organizations. This is particularly true for Black women. I hope that my book shows readers that these issues are not new. They did not occur by chance. History shows how policy and social norms developed overtime to create this problem that is so ubiquitous in our present. I encourage my readers to reflect on how these long-standing barriers have perpetuated inequity in their fields and participate in efforts to dismantle them.
BR: It’s important to you that your message of change and hope reach young people considering STEM careers. What programs or initiatives have you seen that share this goal? As someone who did so much work in this space, founding the Minority Association of Rising Scientists while an undergraduate at Washington University, what can higher ed institutions do to truly support these students?
JB: There are many organizations working to uplift students from marginalized backgrounds who are interested in STEM careers, such as the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the Minority Association of Rising Scientists, which I founded as an undergraduate at Washington University. These organizations have had a significant impact on many students interested in STEM careers. But as we await the US Supreme Court’s decision to keep or overturn affirmative action, it’s clear that we need increased efforts from higher ed institutions to support these students.
There are three things that universities and professional schools can do to support students from marginalized backgrounds:
- Raise awareness of underrepresented minorities who have been very successful in their careers. These role models can motivate students to go after their dreams despite the obstacles that they face.
- Connect students with mentors who share their identities. These mentors can help students navigate challenges because they’ll have a better understanding of the student’s experience.
- Create a safe space for students with marginalized identities. Students continue to face prejudice and discrimination while attending higher ed institutions.
These institutions should have a system that makes it easier for students to report instances of discrimination while ensuring that students are not retaliated against for speaking up. And there should be a committee composed of faculty members who investigate these instances of discrimination, address them, and create structures to prevent similar situations from happening again. By providing these students with role models, mentors, and a space where students are less exposed to prejudice, higher ed institutions can help students from marginalized identities reach their full potential.
BR: What do you like to read? As a youthful debut author, what are some other books, of any genre, you’d like your readers to know about?
JB: When I was younger, I liked to read romance and historical fiction novels. Now, I tend to gravitate towards nonfiction books. I particularly enjoy books that make me feel seen as a Black woman in STEM such as Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy. Another favorite of mine is The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. I oftentimes reflect on that book as I try to make the most of my twenties.
More About Jasmine Brown
Jasmine Brown is a medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed an MPhil in the history of science, medicine, and technology at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, she founded the Minority Association of Rising Scientists and served as its president, working to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science and medicine. Follow her online at jasminebrownauthor.com and on Twitter (@JasmineB_Author) and Instagram (@jasminebrownauthor).