This is Part One of a guest blog by one of our senior mentors. She was a groundbreaker who had to overcome many obstacles as an African American woman studying medicine and becoming a physician in the 1970s.
Here, she recounts her struggles in Pre-Med.
I graduated High School in 1969 with the city-wide Art medal and had a vague idea that I would become a “bio- Illustrator”. My Dad wisely told me art is an avocation for a middle-class kid, not a vocation. I went to my Jesuit Counselor interview after acceptance to Fordham and was told I had a brilliant future as a flower arranger.
Thankfully the Dean of my TMC division was a woman and she was more helpful.
I had Honors in Art and Biology and all the Girl Scout badges in First Aid – both human and vet! She and my mom said to go for Pre-Med, so after 4 years of tough work, and many challenges I became the only African American Female to Graduate Pre-Med with a BS in Biology with Honors in Microbiology and Histology.
This is not to say I did not have pitfalls and traps set in my path before graduation.
The Jesuit priest teaching my third mandatory theology elective – which the college demanded of even their Pre-Med students – extorted a paper supporting his anti-abortion point of view, even though he knew I was and still am pro-choice.
I missed one of his classes after all 4 of my wisdom teeth were pulled out the day prior and even though he was given a note from my dentist for the absence; he told my dean that he would use my absence to fail me in his course and prevent my graduation.
I was enraged; but my father saw this as the continuation of the pattern of sub rosa sabotage that he had experienced in his career when people of color advance into professions that are beyond the narrow-minded perceptions of some people who see a chance to take temporary advantage.
As a female African American physician-to-be, I needed to be prepared for obstacles like this.
My father advised me wisely that this situation will be a recurring one, and the answer is to stay calm and out-think the bastards.
He told me “You write facts and truth well, but you can also write fiction just as well.” My father went on: “Regurgitate his ideas from his own lecture back to him. If he is the egotistical jerk he sounds like, he will love it and think he has converted your misguided Protestant ideas. In fact, he will come to us and brag about his victory on graduation day!”
So I wrote to the most rabid anti-abortion paper I could invent. The Dean said it was “draconian, inhumane, and heartless”. I look back and it was worse even than the current legislation in Texas and Florida.
However, the priest loved it. He gave me an A on the paper and a C on the course. Incredibly, he came up to my parents to brag about it, little realizing how tightly my mother was holding my father’s fisted right arm during the short encounter. She later said she had to use both hands to keep from decking him herself.
I was accepted to SUNY at Buffalo School of Medicine in 1973.
I burnt the paper; my family went south to bury my Grandmother, and I went north to Buffalo that August.
My experiences continue in Part Two: Med School.