A crowd of over 125 people packed the auditorium of the Anlyan Center at the Yale School of Medicine on Tuesday evening for a screening of the documentary “Black Women in Medicine,” which profiles the careers of seven female African-American doctors who are prominent in their respective medical fields.
The screening, which was organized by the medical school and New Haven nonprofit URU The Right To Be, was followed by workshops at which participants discussed the challenges of translating conversation on these issues — which include a lack of diversity in the medical field and unwelcoming environments for women and people of color — into action, and of recruiting and retaining physicians of color. The documentary, which was partially filmed on the campus of the medical school, is part of the “Changing the Face of Medicine” initiative, led by URU The Right To Be. Executive Director of URU Crystal Emery produced and directed the documentary, which will air on public television in the United States in September 2016. In addition to the documentary, the campaign includes the biographical photo essay “Against All Odds: Celebrating Black Women in Medicine,” as well as visits to schools in the New Haven area. It aims to increase the percentage of African-American doctors in America from 4 percent to 7 percent by 2030.
After the screening, Emery said that increasing the proportion of black women doctors represented an opportunity to heal the American public, adding that such significant change needs to begin at an individual level.
“We have to change the face of medicine so that it reflects the demographics of America, but in that change a healing begins, and what I have to say to you is that healing starts with you,” Emery said. “It starts with the love for truth and decency and honesty and each of us [is] an agent for change.”
She went on to praise the doctors featured in the documentary as “extraordinary” women who did not allow the labels of race or gender to define their careers, and also likened her own experience of being a black woman with a disability to that of black women in medicine, noting that she did not allow others to “define who [she is] or what [she] is capable of.”
Mayor Toni Harp, who addressed the crowd before the screening along with Dean of the Yale School of Medicine Robert Alpern and Interim Chair of the Department of Medicine Gary Desir, said she was inspired by the work ethic and determination Emery had shown in making “Black Women in Medicine.”
“When you knock on [Emery’s] door, it says ‘I can’t’ doesn’t live here, so if all of us have the spirit of doing things that are in our hearts, then it will help us achieve our goals,” Harp told the News.
Cassandra DeFelice, project coordinator at URU The Right To Be, also praised Emery’s tenacity in creating the documentary, as well as her passion for celebrating black women doctors who can serve as role models for young people in the community.
Desir also praised the interest generated by the documentary and the large turnout on Tuesday evening and spoke of the importance of having physicians from minority backgrounds who could encourage and mentor others, adding that aiming for a diverse workforce was an excellent and necessary goal, given the diversity of the U.S. population.
Desir said that having a physician who is a black woman means that a people of color “[will] probably get better care [because they’ll] feel much more comfortable,” in certain cases.
He added that one goal of having the film screening at Yale was to promote awareness within the medical school community of the unique challenges faced by minority medical school students and doctors.
After the screening, Emery told the News that increasing participation of minorities in medicine requires that everyone be exposed to the possibility of a successful career, such as those portrayed in “Black Woman in Medicine.”
“Change is hard, but it’s inevitable, and we have to educate everybody about the possibilities,” Emery said. “These women’s stories are the American dream, and if they can succeed what else what can we do?”
Asian-American, African-American and Hispanic or Latino students compose roughly 40 percent of current Yale School of Medicine students.