The Sekhmet Writing Project 2/12
The Light Bringers. A story about 3 amazing Black women doctors who radiate light and give women everywhere the opportunity to listen, to learn, to change.
They move through the earth as if similar to you and I but that is part of the disguise. During the day, their light pervades, ultimately blending with the rays of the sun. But when the sun goes down and the world becomes dark this is when their shine is sublime.
Throughout healthcare, spaces of darkness exist that hide profane elements of inequality and injustices for minority patients. The danger they possess is through their contribution to the already present socio-economic gaps existing in America today. By widening their margins, social determinants of health have emerged and have unequivocally added to the health disparities seen in our healthcare system. While these elements thrive in the darkness, light has finally shone upon them. If we were to trace the rays of such brightness to its source, we would find it comes from those who hide in plain sight.
While all Light Bringers expose what hides in the darkness, the methods in which they achieve this are unique to each Light Bringer themself.
Dr. Joan Bianca Roberts
It was nearly ten years ago the first time I met Dr. Roberts. She was a resident physician and I was in my last year of medical school.
Her journey to becoming a physician started at a young age. Growing up South Sacramento, California, she thrived in academia. Her love for the sciences and community involvement ultimately earned her an undergraduate seat at the University of California San Diego where she would go on to study biochemistry. Though unsure what she would choose for a career, she was encouraged by a mentor to pursue a higher degree in the practice of medicine. This led to a primary care shadowing opportunity in La Jolla, California that ultimately would change everything for her.
“As a Black child growing up, I thought everyone was destined to develop high blood pressure and type two diabetes. I was under the assumption that these particular disease states were absolute with aging. However, when I shadowed a primary care physician in a predominately white upper-class area of San Diego, I learned this not to be the case. It was here when I learned that a patient’s environment and their access to affordable and appropriate health care contributed greatly to the risk of disease development. This was my point of realization. I wanted to be a conduit of health information for my patients as well as the access my community desperately needed to live a healthier life.”
Dr. Roberts was accepted into the University of California San Francisco’s Medical School in 2006 where she embarked on a five year track program-- PRIME, that aims to provide future physicians with the tools needed to give medical care and support to the underserved communities of America.
The light that Dr. Roberts brings to the practice of medicine originates from her unique ability to provide unbiased and unrestricted care to patients who are often marginalized by the practice of medicine. This gives birth to a massive wave of positive energy strong enough to cause mass disruption of the highly clung-to status quo of America’s healthcare system. In just five short years of practice Dr. Roberts has become the division chair of family medicine where she practices. It is in this arena she not only leads by example for her fellow colleagues but she leads change towards inclusivity. She provides light to her patients and unselfishly to her colleagues as well. This allows them to acknowledge their own biases both in gender and in race, ultimately helping them become better physicians for their patients and better champions of health for their communities. I have had the honor and opportunity to work with Dr. Roberts for five years now and just as she was the first time I met her, she continues to be the reason darkness is losing its space in healthcare. It is a privilege to know her.
Her advice to help empower women: As women, it is not good enough to only recognize in one another our potential to achieve greatness. We also need to help one another achieve greatness by recognizing those who take their names out of the hat for positions of leadership due to insecurities stemming from outdated and patriarchal norms. If we support one another, the norms will be challenged. When the norms are challenged change is possible.
Enter Dr. Lori Bryant
In 2019 Dr. Lori Bryant was the recipient of The Viking of Distinction Award given by her alma mater, Omaha North High School in Omaha, Nebraska. This award is meant to honor graduates who have achieved outstanding success in their chosen careers. They are individuals who have demonstrated a willingness to provide mentorship to younger generations, helping to inspire and expose children to different career opportunities at a young age. It is no wonder the sentiment of this award felt by Dr. Bryant, considering the woman behind her aspirations to become a physician (thirty years prior), was in attendance watching as she received this distinguished award.
Dr. Bryant grew up in Omaha, Nebraska born to a mother and father who believed that collectivism should come before individualism. When she and I spoke for this piece she said, “As a child, I would react differently than most children when face to face with sadness. There always was (and still remains) in me, a strong desire to remove it in others. I learned at such a young age that to help better another is also to better the individual” Both her parents were strong advocates for equality and through their work with both the Boys Club and the local Community Center, they taught Dr. Bryant the value of giving to those in need. She described fondly the regular weekends, afternoons and holidays she and her family spent helping those at the Community Center. From these experiences she further maturized her innate ability to empathize with others. As a pediatrician now, it is evident that ultimately this would become the foundation of success her career in medicine was built on.
The light that Dr. Bryant brings to the practice of medicine originates exclusively from her overwhelming ability to empathize with others both alike and not. Not only does she serve as a mentor for many young Black women, but she consistently serves as a mentor for ALL female physicians in medicine.
The foundation supporting America’s healthcare system, intentionally or not, gives way to racism and healthcare disparities amongst minority populations. For those physicians who practice medicine void of such populations, it is very easy to remain blind to those disparities existing outside their bubble. However, Dr. Bryant has an incredibly rich way of teaching her colleagues about the racial disparities existing in healthcare and does so in a way that allows a safe place for vulnerability and humility to lead the learning process. Her words are as refreshing as a breath of fresh air. To be a female physician in medicine is challenging, however being a Black female physician in medicine is even greater a challenge. Yet using her empathy as a driving force, Dr. Bryant pushes beyond the existing barriers in medicine by encouraging others to recognize the pervasive biases that leave our minority patients and colleagues vulnerable. In the three years I have personally known her, I can say with complete certainty, to know Dr. Bryant is to be a better human being.
Her advice to help empower women: Be proud of your story, own your story and be willing to share your story so that other females can be inspired to become our future leaders.
Enter Dr. Ayana Jordan
As a child growing up in America, Dr. Ayana Jordan credits her inspiration to become a physician from none other than television icon, Dr. Cliff Huxtable. “To believe you can be something requires an objective visual. Seeing a Black individual in the role of physician, created a space for me to see myself similarly. In other words, though only a child at the time, I could visualize myself as a physician. It was nothing short of inspiring.” Dr. Ayana grew up with dual parent educators who helped foster a love for the sciences. After obtaining her undergraduate degree from Hampton University, she found herself stuck somewhere between two roads. One road led to a PhD. The other, towards an MD. When she landed a coveted internship with the NIH (National Institute of Health) working with talented researchers in Immunotherapy, she realized that though a bold decision, she would forgo choosing one passion over the other and instead enroll in the dual MD/PhD program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “When I first moved to New York, I lived in the Bronx and prior to this, never knew that poverty existed in America like it did here. It was evident, culturally informed care was lacking for minority patients and many suffered from mental illness without adequate options for treatment. They deserved better. When I did my first clerkship in psychiatry, I knew I had found my home.” She would go on to shock herself by applying for one of the few highly coveted psychiatric residency positions at Yale University. “When I matched, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “Ironically, it had everything to do with the illusive white ivory towers.”
The structural advantages favoring the white race along with embedded racial biases within American academia are both widespread. In fact, the academic success of White students was built on a foundation supported by white privilege. This model of education in our country ensures the success of future white generations by providing more than adequate academic tools necessary for them to succeed in white-prodimanate areas. However simultaneously, with intent or not, this model also creates a disparagement towards the minority populations that it fails to recognize, thus favoring white interests above others, weakening nearby minority communities and further widening the racial divide.
The light that Dr. Jordan brings to healthcare is embodied by her willingness to challenge the racial biases existing in university academics. Academia in America is a machine with nearly impenetrable walls, yet she has done just that. Her ability to enter into the White Ivory Towers of Yale University and unapologetically rearrange the system is nothing short of inspiring. Cultural brokering is an exhaustive endeavor for any minority to embark upon. It is apparent Dr. Jordan’s light originates from her unbridled strength, her unwavering ambition, and her ferocious tenacity to dismantle a system that has long prevented Black individuals and women from entering into the fold. To know Dr. Jordan is to be at the center of inclusivity where exclusivity is nowhere to be found.
Her advice to help empower women: You can’t be what you can’t see. Stay connected so that you can help a new generation of women see themselves in the woman you have become. Find inspiration from sisterhood, navigate sexist spaces, and do it all knowing you never have to do it alone.
To empower women, is to do just that, empower women. This edition is dedicated to all my Black female colleagues who have suffered more than I will ever know. Thank you for your patience, allowing individuals like myself the opportunity to listen, to learn, to change.