This year March 20, 2020, marked the National Resident Matching Program’s annual day where thousands of medical students and graduates (44,959) from across the U.S. and around the world learned the U.S. residency programs that they would have the opportunity to train at for the next three to seven years. However, as the students and graduates would learn where they matched, days prior the coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared pandemic and states across the nation in addition to countries across the world would begin to put strict social distancing measures into place and close down boarders.
While this was occurring, medical doctors across the globe in active practice and retirement would be tasked with taking the frontlines in droves to lead our country safely to the other side of this historic moment in time. During this time, doctors on the frontlines have been tasked with re-engineering healthcare systems, exploring innovative medical practices, and making adaptations to their personal lives to navigate the pandemic’s many challenges. As doctors on the frontlines have engaged in this new landscape, the environment has made more salient the disparities that exist for populations of color who have notoriously grappled with limited access to adequate care given that the virus has disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities.
And while much of this has and continues to take place, many women of color medical students and graduates with a keen desire to bridge these divides are excited to embark on the next chapter of their medical careers amid the pandemic. Although many are the first in their families to become medical doctors and the stakes have been higher for them—with navigating micro-aggressions, racial biases, and more on the medical landscape—these women’s inspirational stories speak wonders. In addition, the constant theme of service and dedication to eradicating disparities among Black and Brown populations is ever apparent through their work and practice. Read further to learn their stories.
Specialty: Emergency Medicine
Residency: Emory University
Kristin Emodi is a soon-to-be medical doctor that shares: “I can’t recall a time when I didn’t want to be a doctor. During a class in college, I learned about healthcare disparities among people of color and I knew I wanted to do something about it. Medical school helped me realize how deep-rooted these issues are, so I pursued an MBA to gain the knowledge to make changes on a systemwide level. My experiences have shown be that as a woman of color, I have a crucial role to play in repairing the system.” And although her journey has been filled with incredible teachers and world class training, Emodi describes it has also been “peppered with numerous instances of bias, racism, and inequality.” In medical school, she worked with some of the most disenfranchised patients in New York and details seeing how different patients’ experiences were based on which health system they received care in. This was an eye-opening experience for her that she shares has shown her the large changes the American healthcare system desperately needs.
When thinking about entering the field during COVID-19 she shares: “I chose emergency medicine to work with underserved populations and for the privilege of being there for people during tough times. I never considered that it could endanger my life. How do I wrap my head around being on the front lines if I am not adequately protected? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I know I must do something,” Emodi shares. While this pandemic has made her more cautious, it has also confirmed for her that medicine is her calling and that she has much to contribute to enrich the system.
Specialty: Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
Residency: Cooper University Health Care
India Jones is a soon-to-be medical doctor that describes that medicine was never a conscious choice for her. “There are pictures of me as a toddler playing doctor with toy stethoscopes. It was always something I knew I wanted to do; I wish I had a cooler story about it,” Jones expresses. During high school she attended a health sciences academy that granted her exposure to pre-medical courses. The anatomy dissections enthralled her, and she knew right then she wanted that kind of experience in how she practiced medicine. That sparked her start in surgery. Jones describes that Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery is one of the most competitive residencies to match into. During med school, every time she would share her desired specialty she was reminded of such. “On residency interviews I was often the only Black person in the applicant group. The internal struggle can be difficult when you feel like you don’t belong. However, when you are underrepresented in your desired field, it’s pivotal to stay diligent so one day you can create opportunities. And that’s what kept me going!” she expresses.
The pandemic has served as a reminder for her that regardless of specialty, all physicians have a responsibility to serve the public. It has also reminded her that her that she wants to have a career that will leave a long-standing legacy in plastic surgery. Being that she is starting soon, she is concerned about how residents are being treated throughout the country. “Lack of PPE, lack of support from administration—things like that concern me for my colleagues and I. But we will get through this,” Jones shares.
Specialty: Internal Medicine
Residency: New York Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical Center
Choumika Simonis is a soon-to-be medical doctor who was inspired to pursue medicine by her mother who is a Certified Nursing Assistant. After emigrating from Haiti in the 1980s, Simonis’ mother began a career at a home for veterans where she has served for nearly 24 years. During this time, Simonis describes witnessing her mother compassionately and confidently care for patients. Channeling her mother’s approach to medical care and her amazing work ethic, Simonis focused her hands-on medical-training opportunities on building effective patient-centered relationships and providing holistic care. Simonis describes that her journey to becoming a doctor has been filled with: “a myriad of victories, occasional moments of self-doubt, and various trials and tribulations.” To successfully navigate the challenges and stay healthy, she has learned to rely more on her family, friends, and faith. She has always discovered renewed purpose and found comfort in reflecting on her reasons for entering this profession: “helping people care for their health so they can live fulfilling lives.”
In light of COVID-19 , Simonisexpresses feeling far more excited than anxious about starting residency during the pandemic. “Each interaction with a patient is an opportunity to learn and have a positive impact. But as a Black woman, I am especially committed to eradicating health inequities plaguing Black and Brown communities. On the front line, I will not only learn about the disease’s course and social implications, but I will also have the privilege of providing high-quality care to some of society’s most marginalized,” she shares.
Specialty: Emergency Medicine
Residency: University of Southern California
Karra Maniér is a soon-to-be medical doctor that became interested in medicine after witnessing her father suffer from a spinal cord injury. She describes that being both his daughter and caretaker granted her a unique perspective into the world of medicine. This has inspired Maniér to visualize her father through her patients and work towards melding together their social and clinical needs. Thus far, watching her goal become a reality she describes as being “a dream come true.” Additionally, Maniér expresses that the journey has required countless amounts of sacrifice, perseverance, tenacity, and determination: “It has been a physically and mentally demanding process while still humbling and rewarding. The challenges that I have overcome as a first-generation medical student have been worthwhile and filled with valuable lessons. This journey has certainly taught me that if you want something bad enough, you will be willing to work for it,”
Although it is a unique and challenging time to be entering the workforce, Maniér is grateful to have the opportunity to serve on the frontlines to overcome this pandemic. “COVID-19 has made me more aware of the deficiencies of our healthcare system and has magnified the health disparities that have existed within the African American community. This pandemic has me more invigorated to work on the frontlines to raise awareness and address these inequities for my patients in and outside of the emergency department,” she shares.
Residency: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine at Springfield
Jazzmyne Montgomery is a soon-to-be medical doctor that was inspired to pursue medicine due to the lack of equitable healthcare access for marginalized populations. As a medical student, researcher, associate director of the Medical Mavens Mentorship Pipeline, and recent Schweitzer fellow, she has battled the insidious outcomes of health disparities. Therefore, as a physician-researcher, her goal is to continue to advocate for her community through clinical and translational research, surgical care and mentorship. Montgomery describes her journey studying medicine as being “winding, tumultuous, emotional, yet, truly gratifying” since beginning 10 years ago. She is now the first Black woman to match into Urology from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
The pandemic has highlighted for Montgomery the urgency for increased diversity in all of medicine, but especially in specialties on the front lines battling COVID. “Black men and women are dying at disproportionate rates secondary to a combination of historical and socioeconomic circumstances. I feel more motivated now than ever to contribute wherever I am needed,” she shares. She has matched into Urology, but as a resident she expresses that if needed to serve in the role of caring for COVID-19 patients, she is happy to oblige.
Specialty: Neurological Surgery
Residency: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Remi Wilson is a soon-to-be medical doctor that describes that her mother not being able to attend medical school, but having the potential to do so and her father’s addiction steered her into the field of medicine. “The ability to exercise compassionate care and positively impact the health outcomes of patients has been the greatest part of my hands-on experience. This has been one of the most exhilarating experiences,” Wilson shares. With the medical field grind being never ending, the desire to master her craft has propelled her to greater heights. Wilson says: “the ability to make a difference in someone’s life is more awakening than caffeine. I honestly feel like I have found my passion.”
For Wilson, the pandemic has emphasized the importance of diversity in medicine. “Different outcomes in different populations highlight the heterogeneity of the demographics we treat. Therefore, we need diversity in thought and representation if we desire to solve health inequalities in this country,” she expresses.
Residency: Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Leah Chisholm is a soon-to-be medical doctor who was inspired to “to do more for herself and for others” while growing up with parents who were pastors and absorbing countless sermons. Although she is the first doctor in her family and a Black woman who has noticed the lack of physicians that look like her, she has desired not to let that halt her aspirations. Her hope is that her status being underrepresented in medicine (URM) brings opportunities to do more for minority patients, minority doctors, and the next generation. She describes navigating the journey through medicine as been empowering. “Medical school opened my eyes to my flaws, the flaws of others, and the flaws of the system. I spent the first few years bottling up emotions from stress, microaggressions, and imposter syndrome.” Chisholm illuminates overcoming these feelings by becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.
This pandemic Chisholm describes has put the responsibility her future title holds into perspective. She has begun to truly realize the pivotal role she can play in educating the community around her. Being close to soon joining the medical force, she sees the weight of her actions in serving as a role model. “There is a large need for medical education for the general public, and the conflicting views revolving around the pandemic prove that,” Chisholm shares.
Residency: University of Cincinnati Medical Center
Aderinola Adejare-Smith, MD is a soon-to-be medical doctor who was born in Nigeria. Her many experiences with the health care system in her native country, coupled with the loss of her younger brother sparked her interest in medicine. This interest further grew when she immigrated to the U.S. and encountered challenges like having no health insurance. This ignited her passion to pursue medicine, tackle health disparities, and mentor others along the way. Adejare-Smith describes this journey as being “exciting, challenging, and yet fulfilling.” Prior to going to medical school, she worked for two years and afterward did a one year postbac program, detailing that she was a non-traditional student coming into medical school. Since attending, she describes that the past four years have certainly been rigorous, but she feels truly blessed to be living her dream. “It is a privilege to care for patients in their most vulnerable state, and I don’t take it for granted,” Adejare-Smith details.
“The pandemic has exposed a lot, including the inequalities that already exist in the United States. Data has shown that Black Americans have higher rates of COVID-19 infections and mortality. This conveys that a lot of work still needs to be done to address the health disparities that pervade our society,” she illuminates. As a physician and Anesthesiologist in training, Adejare-Smith’s goal is to continue to bring awareness to these health disparities and engage others in finding solutions to address them.
Specialty: Family Medicine
Residency: University of Rochester
Alexis Davis is a soon-to-be medical doctor who describes growing up in an environment where trusted sources of care did not exist, but chronic illness abounded. This led her early on to realize that being poor and/or a minority in America often means receiving lower quality medical care. This belief continues to drive her dedication to vulnerable communities. As a first generation college student and soon to be physician, she describes her triumphs as meaning nothing if I she doesn’t help those with similar backgrounds beat the odds as well. “I take it all in stride because, ultimately, becoming a physician is blessing generations in the making,” she expresses.
Davis never imagined her career in medicine starting quite like this. “The pandemic certainly adds another level of anxiety to an already stressful life transition,” she describes. However, it also has reaffirmed for her, the importance of the path she and many others have chosen as physicians. Davis believes: “what we do will have an immense impact on so many. That is a sobering amount of responsibility, but it is also such a blessing to know you are in position to affect positive change in a way many cannot.”
Specialty: Plastic Surgery
Residency: Vanderbilt University
Kianna Jackson, is a soon-to-be medical doctor that transitioned to the medical field due to an interest in finding a career where she could meld her passion for science with her love for service. After working as a volunteer EMT for MIT Emergency Medical Services during college, she knew that medicine was the best route for her. “My time in medical school has only continued to fuel my inspiration by opening my eyes to the many ways in which our healthcare system can be improved, particularly for people of color and LGBTQ individuals,” Jackson expresses. As a first-generation college student and the first person in her extended family to become a doctor, she feels incredibly fortunate to have had an amazing support system and dedicated mentors along the way.
Additionally, Jackson describes feeling more nervous entering the field than she was prior to COVID-19. However, she is excited about getting to the frontlines to help. “This pandemic has highlighted some of the many healthcare disparities affecting communities of color, and reminds me that I must continue to use my voice as a physician to speak out against inequity. It has also shown the ways in which medicine can be flexible, and I hope that we can learn to use that flexibility to better serve low-resource communities,” she illuminates.
Specialty: Orthopedic Surgery
Residency: Mount Sinai Hospital
Christon Darden is a soon-to-be medical doctor that describes being very interested in the sciences and math while growing up. With Darden’s grandmother, being a former aerospace engineer at NASA, it helped inspire and cultivate within her an interest that constantly placed her in positions that expanded her knowledge and love of the fields. In high school, Darden decided to go into medicine, a field where she could combine all her interests while helping people in an impactful way. “My hands-on experiences throughout life have been key in providing me with confidence. However, my journey to this point has been one full of ups and downs. The process of getting into medicine can be trying, but completely worth it in the end. I have found lifelong mentors, friends, and colleagues on this journey,” Darden shares.
With the pandemic, Darden has found that it has impacted her feelings about medicine in a positive way. While getting ready to enter the medical field in the middle of a pandemic, she notes that it hasn’t changed anything. She feels: “We, as healthcare professionals, are needed now, more than ever, and I am privileged to be able to serve the public in such a life-changing way. I am entering into the field during a tough time, but I am ready and willing to come to bat.”
Specialty: Obstetrics & Gynecology
Residency: SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Abiola Sarin Soyemi is a soon-to-be medical doctor who describes growing up in a Nigerian household where it was taboo to talk about one’s childhood crush, let alone the stages of sexual development. At twelve-years-old while being inquisitive, thanks to MSN Encarta, she had her first introduction to human physiology and her confidence grew. Since then, to date, her clinical experience have served as a loving reminder that every individual she encounters is living a life as vivid and complex as her own. Although her journey through medicine has come with many ups and downs, she regards that she is certainly not the same person who started her BS/MD journey when she was 17 years old. One of her fondest memories of her medical education includes the time where she rotated at a Brooklyn hospital—a hospital renowned for having one of the highest delivery rates in the country. During this time, she recalls watching a 70-year-old grandmother nearly de-sterilize an entire surgical field, eager to hold her twin granddaughters who were at risk of an adverse outcome.
With the advent of COVID-19, reports on health disparities have been disturbing and alarming at best. Soyemi feels that COVID-19 has revealed the fragility within our healthcare system. For example, in her field she notes: “Black women, along with Native Americans and Alaska natives, are three times more likely to die before, during or after having a baby… and more than half of these deaths are preventable.” This is a dilemma that continues to plague doctors and scientists throughout our country, yet she’s decided to remain hopeful. Soyemi believes: “access to medical care truly allows us to be all we aspire to be… and more.”
Residency: Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Roosevelt
Zoe Paul is a soon-to-be medical doctor who describes that being a doctor is: “a personal experience where you are providing care during someone’s darkest times.” She feels that the key to being a stellar physician is using your knowledge and combining it with a human element to best help patients. Paul expresses that her journey has been a rollercoaster at best. “Between taking care of sick family and balancing a rigorous medical program, it was hard to figure out who she was in medicine.” When she reached her clinical years, she describes that everything came together like a puzzle piece. Her favorite part of every rotation was spending time with patients. Paul felt like she was able to use compassion and communication to truly help her patients.
For Paul, this pandemic has been shocking and has taken some time to adjust. Going into psychiatry, she believes will provide her with an opportunity to have a long-lasting effect on the mental health of many. Paul also believes it is important to normalize these issues so they aren’t covered up or forgotten. “Getting the mental health care that one needs is extremely important for be able to deal with the trauma, loss, and anxiety that is currently taking place to in turn create healthier coping mechanisms.” Longterm, Paul hopes little girls are able to see her example and learn that their possibilities are endless.
Specialty: Internal Medicine – Pediatrics
Residency: Tulane School of Medicine
Amber Hardeman, MD, MPH, MBA is a medical doctor who rematched in 2020 that expresses: “I always knew I wanted to be a doctor because of my interest in science and anatomy.” Her desire to treat the patient rather than “just” the disease encouraged her to pursue an MD/MBA in addition to her MPH. As a bilingual Black woman, she has had firsthand experiences treating patients who confide in her due to language and/or cultural barriers in care. She is dedicated to helping families have access to adequate healing support and diminishing disparities with adverse effects on public health. Overall, for Hardman, the journey has been a challenge, but fulfilling nonetheless: “It’s tough and humbling to work so hard while feeling I have not mastered anything, with more and more work routinely piled on. I am now more efficient in managing my time. Regardless, no matter how difficult things have been, I am very grateful for the journey.” This path isn’t easy, but Hardeman describes choosing it for a reason. Every day she does her best to ameliorate pain, suffering, and disease for her patients.
The pandemic has inspired her more than ever. Hardeman describes: “I entered medicine to help minimize disparities and inequality in healthcare. COVID-19 has proven to affect an incredibly disproportionate amount of African Americans due to a multitude of factors, including racism, socioeconomic disadvantage, barriers to access, and higher rates of co-morbid health conditions. I will be entering a ‘battle zone’ at my new job in New Orleans, and I aspire to decrease disease burden on the minority population over the next 4 years.”
Wishing these women all the best as they join new roles on the frontlines.