Like most residency programs, my program has a hall that has the pictures of resident classes dating back multiple decades. When I first arrived on campus I walked the hall in our department, looking to see when the first black resident was accepted. It took me awhile, because everyone looks the same in black and white, but I finally found him in the picture below (can you pick him out?):
For the longest time I wished I could meet him, but I figured he was probably retired or dead. Well last month I got the chance to meet him by chance at a department homecoming of sorts. I got his number and couldn’t wait to hear his story; I just knew that he faced an environment similar to the Little Rock 9 kids who desegregated our public schools. Imagine, in a field as undiverse as orthopaedic surgery, being the first black resident at a place like Hopkins? His true story was actually quite different and less dramatic.
He told me that he was treated with nothing but respect from the orthopaedics department at the time. The only time that he ever received rascist remarks were from some of the general surgery attendings (who happened to be from the south) when he did his 2 years of general surgery that was required at the time. He also mentioned that whenever a patient made it clear that they didn’t want to be treated by a black orthopaedic resident, that their chairman would show the patient the door. We talked about a lot more but it was so amazing to hear that his experience was so pleasant, but in hindsight not really surprising at all. One of the main things that attracted me to Hopkins was that second to Howard University’s ortho program and perhaps UVA, Hopkins had just as many minorities and woman. To me it spoke of a program that took the best regardless of what they looked like. In honor of black history month, I think its important to remember all those who came before us to make our opportunities even possible. If that first black resident really sucked, who knows when Hopkins would have taken their 2nd one. In the same way, where ever we end up, we have to strive to not just be on par, but be the best, to continue opening up doors for those behind us. And when we reach the top, we have to remember to BE AVAILABLE as mentors. Okay, I’m off my soapbox :-).