“Local Women Making a Difference”
During Women’s History Month, the Westchester County Press will feature local lead-HERS in the fields of medicine, sports and entertainment, education, the law, social justice, and business.
Question: What is highly desirable but difficult to find or obtain?
A) Medical Degree
C) A and B
For Camille A. Clare, M.D., MPH and Heather A. McGowan, M.D., the answer is C. Both women earned medical degrees and are considered to be unicorns in their field because Black female doctors are often non-existent to the general public and not acknowledged by many of their White male counterparts.
Thanks to Dr. Clare, Dr. McGowan, and Disney Junior’s popular “Doc” McStuffins animated series, the storyline is changing. African-American women are bringing their folding chairs and claiming seats at the examining table.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black female in the U.S. to receive a medical degree from the New England Female Medical College in 1864. Her accomplishment was truly remarkable because there were only 300 women out of 54,543 physicians in the U.S. in 1860; and none of them were African-American. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was intended to abolish slavery, was ratified in 1865; and the Howard University College of Medicine opened its doors in 1868.
Fast forward to the 1900s. In 1920, there were only 65 African-American women doctors in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau, in 1940, with nearly 10% of the population reported as Black, less than 3% of physicians were Black. Of those, 2.7% were men and 0.1% were women. In 2018, with about 13% of the U.S. population reported as Black, only 5.4% of physicians were Black. Of those, 2.6% were men and 2.8% were women. The timeline demonstrates how slow progress has been made about diversity within the community of physicians.
For Dr. McGowan, pushing through a boatload of barriers to wear the long white coat definitely was not easy. She stated that “microaggressions are real, systemic racism is real, and misogyny is real.” Her practice, the Village Pediatric Group in Tuckahoe, NY is also real (www.villagepediatricgroup.com). She established the fun, safe space to dispense quality healthcare to kids in 2008.
According to Dr. McGowan, “for a little Black girl raised in Brooklyn, by loving, no-nonsense parents with a Caribbean accent, and who was occasionally gas-lit by teachers, guidance counselors, and professors in high school, college, and medical school, I know I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams. And when I see a little Black girl’s eyes light up when I walk in the examination room with my white coat, stethoscope, and a smile, I know they see what they can be.”
Dr. Camille Clare shared similar sentiments. In her role as Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Professor at the College of Medicine and the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, she is committed to ensuring the next generation of Black female physicians has a community of mentors that looks like them and fully supports them during and after their medical school journey. She stated, “Becoming a doctor is not easy. The road is less travelled by people of color; Black women in particular. The road is also long (in terms of time and expense) from high school to college, then medical school, then a residency - maybe two or more depending on the practice - and finally, the practice. However, the professional and personal rewards at the end of the journey are far more valuable than the long days and nights endured throughout the journey.”
Thanks to Drs. Crumpler, Clare, and McGowan for sprinkling their Black girl magic on unicorns who reside where dreams are realized. We see you!
This story was written by A. Kelli Higgs, Esq., a regular contributing writer to the Westchester County Press