This is an interview with an amazing man, Dr. Russel Ledet. Let’s talk about the adversity he has faced and overcome as a Black man pursuing medicine.
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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:54] Interest in Becoming a Doctor
In 2011, Russell had just gotten off active duty in the United States Navy so he needed to get a job. He then landed one as a security guard at a hospital. Obviously, not in the capacity as a clinician, but he got to see people walking around with white coats on dealing with trauma in the ER.
He considered it was something he could do for a living so he gave it a shot. He asked a lot of doctors while he was working as a security guard, and a lot of them laughed at him telling him security guards don’t become doctors. Russel says he’s cool with the naysayers because they have a role too.
Now, there was one doctor who encouraged him to pursue what he wanted to do. He then connected Russell with a friend for him to shadow, a chief surgery resident for LSU who needed somebody to escort him to the operating room.'There's a trauma associated with poverty that can force you to run harder, run faster, compete harder, and just want more.'Click To Tweet
Russell says that one of the things that inspire him to push forward is because of poverty and that there’s trauma associated with it. He also adds that once you’re in the military, you don’t look at things thinking you’re not capable of doing.
[06:58] Overcoming the Barriers and Stigmas
Unfortunately, a lot of people stay in that place where they don’t pursue their dreams because they don’t have those people to see that. They’ve always wanted to be a doctor, for instance, but they never saw anyone that looked like them or that came from the same place as them. They never saw someone that talked like them so they didn’t see that possibility.
The first MD/Ph.D. Russell ever met was a Black professor at MIT whom he met at a conference. He reached out to him multiple times afterward, but he was not interested in talking to him. On the other hand, Russell’s mentors in the military were white.
Russell also mentions that there’s a stigma against older people going to medical school. So it’s harder to get into medical school, the older you are.
[10:19] His Shadowing Experience
Russell shadowed Dr. Peter Bostick, one of the most talented surgical oncologists in the country, who also happened to be a black guy. This motivated him even more to pursue medicine. His wife is also a pediatrician who eventually became his oldest daughter’s pediatrician.
During his time shadowing, Dr. Bostick let Russell put his hand on a cancer patient and he was just mind-blown. And for him, it was a moment that changed his life.
Russell says that when he came out of undergrad, he applied to an MD/Ph.D. program in his last year of undergrad, but didn’t get any. But he got a call from the Dean at NYU School of Medicine, who had known him from a fellowship, and encouraged him to apply for Ph.D.
And so, he did take the Ph.D. route. And although there are a lot of time constraints placed within MD/Ph.D. programs, he was happy he did it. The thought process was just to go become a scientist, and then they’ll figure out the rest.
[15:29] Where to Find Mentors
So when Russell left the Navy, he went to undergrad down this premed path. He applied to medical schools and didn’t get in. A lot of people who will go through this end up giving up because it costs too much to apply to medical schools, to begin with. His mentor told him that he just had to prove people wrong.
Everybody’s threshold to that is different. For some people, the financial strain is sometimes too great. Sometimes, too, the immediate financial need right now for the family is too great. Sometimes, people need people in their families to make money now.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to look for people who really want to connect with you and are interested in willing to build you.
In order to find the right mentor, Russell says you just have to value everyone, even homeless people or the janitor at your hospital. In fact, one of his mentors is a guy who is somewhat homeless. And he gets different advice from different people. It’s also about communicating your dreams and your aspirations in things that you want to do.'Especially with premed, they think the only person who can be their mentor is another doctor... that's fundamentally not true. You don't need another doctor to be your mentor.'Click To Tweet
There are people around you who have nothing to do with medicine but they just help to guide you through life and people forget that. Applying to medical school is a part of life. If you want to become a doctor, you need people to help guide you with making life decisions. Sometimes, however, we only look for people in medicine which he thinks is dangerous. It’s important to treat everybody with respect.
[26:34] Meeting Adversity Through This Journey
Russell puts his focus on the goal regardless of the adversities that come his way. He also has much appreciation for failure being a very valuable tool.
Russell also mentions that he interviewed for residency with a failed Step 2 score. Then he ended up passing it during the interview season. If at all, it even made him dig deeper into his faith.'Failing is not the worst thing that could ever happen. Being not afraid of failure is an amazing trait to have.'Click To Tweet
[30:10] Balancing Life
Russell doesn’t think balance is real. You just make it work as it goes. And this is one thing the Navy has prepared him for. It’s about figuring it out as you go.
In the end, Russell proved the naysayers all wrong and got accepted to medical school. If you see one person do what you want to do, then it’s possible. Just go figure it out. And don’t don’t listen to anyone else. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
For Russell, the greatest privilege you can have is to take care of someone’s life in the hospital. There’s nothing better than feeling and knowing you were part of the care team.
[37:49] The 15 White Coats
Russell says that the goal behind The 15 White Coats picture was just to illustrate how far black people are coming in medicine as 15 Black medical students.
Currently, they’re providing a scholarship to minorities who are students from historically black colleges and universities who are applying to medical schools.
They put the photo in classrooms all over the world for free. When you go to their website, you can sign up for their poster, and they will email it to you along with the curriculum to have a conversation with the kids about what it means to be a doctor. And Russell believes this conversation needs to be had at the elementary and middle school level.
[40:11] Final Words of Wisdom'You have to be unwilling to quit. You can't let anything stop you.' Click To Tweet
If you really want to become a physician, you don’t have to be stubborn. Everyone got a bad grade at some point in some class in some way. And they all recovered. Every doctor failed at something at some point, no doubt about it. So if they can do it, if Russell can do it, you can do it too. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
If it’s something that you really want, medicine is here for you. You belong in medicine. Medicine needs you. Medicine needs humans. Medicine needs people who understand that people are still people.