This is part two of a guest blog by one of our members. She was a groundbreaker as a woman of color studying medicine in the 1970s. Here, she recounts her first year at Med School far from home.
Buffalo NY: the other end of my state. Lovely heritage city of great Chinese food and much snow from August to May anywhere from 5 inches to 30 feet depending on the mood of Lake Erie.
It was a wonderful place to study medicine. Great school now (AKA) Jacobson School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences but to me it will always be SUNY Buffalo. Lifelong friends were made and hearts and sometimes hopes were dented but confirmed.
The class of ’77 was unique in several ways. We had a large group of legacy students guaranteed by either mom or dad graduating in the past, twenty-six female students and remarkably twenty-one students of color. This was the biggest diverse first-year student PGY1 class the school ever admitted, and it kept that “honor” for several decades after.
It was a great time for study and fantastic Chinese food and with the average of 5 inches of snow every day almost, your chances of working very hard to learn a mountain of new data and the drive to achieve (survive) the first year would hold the petty nonsense a bay.
It did not because bigotry knows no bounds and smart people sometimes let their ambitions override common sense. I was able to test out of Microbiology and Histology classes due to the knowledge I received at college but the male envy over that led some to play ‘move the pin’ in cadaver anatomy lab.
I got caught by that the first time it was tried and it was pure meanness on the part of a few legacy classmates who thought that they could get away with causing everyone behind them to identify the wrong vessel or muscle as the whole class circulated to each body in the lab.
Many of us formed study groups and stayed late in the lab by comparing notes. Over several practices the pattern of trickery was detected, and the preceptors were made aware of what several study groups were able to prove. Dr. L, our head professor and his graduate lab fellows watched several practical exams and confirmed the patterns of pin shifts and who was making them.
Sadly, they were all offspring of alumni, and their claim was Black students and women did not belong in “their” class. Dr L. was furious and wanted them expelled but they were not, and they even started a complaint that grades were at risk because of Dr. L ‘s Chinese accent.
It was all such a farce.
Dr. L was a brilliant anatomy professor, and all the rest of us learned a great deal from him. He was also a great preceptor and when he took his eleven students to dinner you could not tell what he ordered in Mandarin but what was served was pure nirvana. The best Chinese gourmet dishes I have ever eaten.
I knew that for all to survive and graduate, group study was a must, and group support was essential. Those of us who tested out of a class still showed up to help study with those who did not.
We formed 6 groups, which later expanded and became interactive as other classmates found that shared stress, drills, and quizzes eased the burden.
There was a military type of camaraderie that developed, there was a shoulder to cry on, someone to watch your back, dig you out of the snow, brunch on Sunday after all night pretest grill sessions, or lend you a blanket to curl up and sleep on the floor of their apartment if you were too tired or it was too cold to safely get home.
We would buddy up and check each other’s well being. If you missed a study session or a lab or even the Saturday basketball game or spring barbecue, someone was going to check on you.
The New York crowd would caravan the 12hr run from Buffalo to Queens and Brooklyn 5 pm Friday and see family and friends and caravan back 11am Sunday. In the spring you could cut a few hours off the Thruway run by using route 81, but it was not fun at Christmas – very icy and hilly.
Partying in New York City was hard after a long drive, but it turned out to be a safer alternative. One of the things you had to protect was your person and your reputation.
The Buffalo Police were not your friend and many of them were not without a certain degree of bias against students in general.
The interesting thing was that if you made the mistake of going to a student party on or off campus, you could find yourself in a building with 80 or more students, but if the cops raided it as a “Pot Party”, the only students that seem to had ever been arrested were the two or four black students in the place, especially if they were graduate, medical, or dental students.
The 1973 revolving door; if arrested then convicted and embarrassed the University, then you were out: dusted and done.
My experiences continue in Part Three: Later In Med School