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On Wednesday, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a friend from college featured on one of Forbes’s “30 Under 30” lists. As a 20-something new doctor, I was naturally curious about who made the publication’s cut in health care.

I was quickly disappointed. While Forbes’s picks were generally diverse in terms of gender, race, culture, and religion — one inductee wears a hijab — I couldn’t help but notice that not a single person honored in my industry looked like me, African-American. While I was happy to see so many women and people of color, I wondered if I could embrace a version of diversity that lacked full representation.


That said, the honorees have all contributed a great deal. So is their racial makeup even important?

I think it is. Black people are underrepresented in medicine — we only make up 4 percent of the physician workforce, though we’re 13 percent of the US population (not counting biracial African-Americans). Role models can help increase our numbers, and arguably broaden access to care for diverse communities.

I asked Forbes about the lack of representation of black talent on the 2017 health care list, which is billed as the “most definitive gathering of today’s leading young change-makers and innovators” in the United States. The editor I spoke to, Sarah Hedgecock, noted that a separate list, for science innovators, included three black males.


Hedgecock, the assistant online editor of the pharma and health care section of Forbes, said two of the black male honorees could have gone on either list, but their accomplishments — a DNA donation start up and biomedical engineering work — felt more appropriate for the science category. (She was the primary editor on the health care list and helped with the science list.)

While these black scientists are accomplished and deserving, my feeling toward them is the same feeling I have toward black artists and athletes — admiration more than aspiration.

Practicing medicine is the soul of health care, and I wanted to see a role model and a mentor on that Forbes list — someone who has walked in my shoes, and worn my white coat.

Such role models weren’t visible to me during my training, and as I’ve written before, they’re not all that visible in society at large. That’s a problem. As Marie Wilson, the founder of the nonprofit White House Project, says: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

When I was a first-year medical student at the University of Virginia, I wrote a letter to Dr. Jennifer Ellis, one of only five African-American female board-certified cardiothoracic surgeons the country. I told her how isolated I felt in the pursuit of my dreams.

“I recently started shadowing an orthopedic surgeon and I realized that none of the residents or [attending physicians] looked like me — a realization that I found somewhat frightening,” I wrote back in 2012.

I remember searching my medical school’s website, and seeing no black female surgeons on the faculty. I looked at that list and wondered if I could fill the gap, in the same way young girls wonder if they could ever be president. At that moment it felt like a dream based in fantasy.

Looking at the Forbes list, which is supposed to be a celebration of the future of health care, I felt the same pain. I wondered if people like me would be written out of that narrative too.

Hedgecock said Forbes has struggled with this issue before in its 30 Under 30 programming, especially in science and health care, though she said the magazine has made good progress. Reflecting on the reality of the limited diversity within those fields, she said “we are working within the bounds of that.”

In the 2016 class there were two black men in health care. Surely there are more.

So in my view, Forbes can do more. It sets out to celebrate millennials “who are challenging the conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation … breaking the status quo and transforming the world.” Forbes could be more intentional by promoting the very change it champions.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the award, but rather its downstream effects of visibility. Forbes has a high-profile platform — and could use it to promote role models and start conversations about diversity and inclusion in health care.

  • It is highly disingenuous to write an piece about underrepresentation of one group (defined by percent share of the population) that does not to mention the dominating overrepresentation of another group (as defined by percent share of the population). South Asian Americans comprise 1% of the population, yet comprise 8 (26%) of the faces on this list! (Not even including two people who appear to be half South Asian) I would love to hear the author’s thoughts about this aspect of the discrepancy.

    You state that Forbes “could use [its position] to promote role models and start conversations about diversity and inclusion in health care”: with a list of recipients that is majority minority, how could you say they are not?

  • Your lens is scratched. If you buff it, you will find that we are all just trying to make it out here. African American and Caucasian cultures glorify different traits. As the other person stated, “be the change you want to see” for your culture. Know where to spread blame…i.e. These are not the droids you’re looking for. You were trying to speak to Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye, 50 cent, Obama, and all the glorified leaders of African American culture who do not preach discipline, but instead handouts.

  • I appaud your words that rin true despresso everything does not line for a perfect 2 + 2 = 4. Whether numbers support your obserations or that they support that “feeling”. We are Americans and we can say what we would like without stepping on someone’s toes because it is our right. I saw no one to inspire me to get a doctorate in my family, in my schools but I did do because I know there is a least 1 person needing to have that face that is like them because mirrors do not talk, feel or share experiences. Good for you. Good for all of us.

  • you forgot to look in one more place for a role model ” the mirror”.

    i dont see the necessity of a person to look like you to be a role model, If you are a doctor, you should look at a good doctor and not necessarily a African american doctor.
    what if the african american doctor is not really a good doctor?

    my advice to you is …. be comfortable in your skin.

  • Per the AAMC: in 2013, 81% of black applicants with an MCAT score between 27-29 and and a GPA between 3.40-3.59 were accepted to medical school. Only 22% of Asian applicants and 33% of white applicants with the same credentials were accepted.

    Black people are underrepresented in medicine because they choose not to go to medical school. The simple truth of the matter is that blacks already are given preferential treatment solely based on the color of their skin. Hundreds of more qualified white and Asian applicants are turned down every year and their spots go to black applicants. It’s time to stop trying to place blame on society for the lack of black doctors.

    • The evidence is in the acceptance rates of the given races. Easy enough to find. As an Asian applicant finally accepted into medical school after 3 years (yay!), I can confirm that this is true. For better or for worse, its the society we live in. Why not look at your described perspective as motivation? Be the change you want to see… the odds of that are in your favor.

  • If you look at the pipeline there are far less black college graduates as well and that could easily be the result of institutional racism but blacks also have almost double the acceptance rate for any given MCAT or GPA with the lowest average MCAT and GPA’s and about 10% of all medical students are black so I would expect to see at least 2 or 3

    The counter is that we often hear that “Race is a social construct” and although we are not “post-racial” I am curious why at the same time you want to be treated equally you want to cling to an outdated concept like race and look for people like you? Isn’t that the same as when white people pick other white people to work with them? FYI A recent UW study showed that young kids no longer identify people by race so why should adults?

  • “You can’t be what you can’t see,” is obviously rubbish – if that were true, no one would be the “first” to be or do anything.

    In fact, this whole article is patently nonsense. And I say that as a black man… not that I should be allowed to contradict you only if I’m black, when this is so obviously self-indulgent, manipulative drivel.

    Forbes doesn’t owe you anything – it’s a business. Just because you *want* to see a black person on the list doesn’t mean a black person deserved to be on the list. It is logically incoherent (and intellectually dishonest) to suggest that because 13% of the US population is African American, there should be more than 4% working as physicians. Profession to population ratios don’t operate on such direct, simplistic terms. Loads of other things affect who does which job and, in fact, which jobs people are likely to choose (freely) to do. Your suggestion is worse than a false equivalence… it’s a fradulent equivalence.

    Stop encouraging the soft racism of low expectations by suggesting that black people should get things just because we want them.

    And stop being lazy. Before you publish such spurious nonsense, do some research. Find out whether there were specific, high-achieving black physicians who deserved to be in the Forbes list (according to the set criteria), but were systematically excluded solely because of their race. All you have to back up these very strong allegations are your feelings and unexpressed guesses.

    If you hang on for-profit publications (like Forbes) to validate your sense of self-worth before you can muster the mettle to go for your ambitions, then you’re the problem (not them) and you’ll be waiting forever.

    No minority group (we black people included) should poison its own with the mindset that every time the world isn’t the way we want it to be, it’s because some faceless “other” is attacking us.

    Being hostile to the world because we suspect everyone of looking down on us and potentially harbouring ill intentions… that’s what holds us back. And it’s even sadder when such attitudes are borne of Machiavellian untruths, like this one.

    Sometimes the world is just the way it is – not everything is perfectly symmetrical.

  • I am truly inspired by your article and I hope more like us will speak for true representation. Also I am happy to know you are out there for my four year old daughter and other young African American females to see that they reach for the sky.

  • The notion that “people like [you]” are being actively or inactively “written out of narratives” could not be more inaccurate. In fact there are many programs and selection criteria in medicine that write people like you into narratives they haven’t earned a place in through talent or merit. This article is nothing more than a request for this to happen again in a different way: “Please write people of my gender and race into the ‘narrative’ that is Forbes 30 under 30 irrespective of an incomparable level of accomplishment and achievement”

    • You are correct Sally… you are Sad.

      Merit does matter and should be the only thing.

      But this article is the effect, what is the cause?

      The cause is a Bigoted America that routinely discriminated against not only Doctors of Color but Female Doctors!

      To this day, female doctors are still perceived as “nurses”!

      Even black doctors are perceived as “janitors” or have their credentials questioned…

      The problem with society are people like yourself who fail to understand that changing society requires articles like this young Doctors.

      Young people need to see that they can succeed regardless of the their race or gender.

      That is the purpose of having full “qualified” representation in the “Forbes 30 under 30”.

      Please learn more as opposed to making these ignorant comments.

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