Taking the nursing to medical school route, Dr. Shenelle Wilson explains why she’s advocating for having a plan. She also talks about her nonprofit Urology Unbound, and how they’re helping underrepresented premeds along their journey to medicine.
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[00:44] The MCAT Minute
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[01:52] Her Interest in Being a Physician
Growing up, Shenelle wanted to be a veterinarian. And then through high school, she started doing more singing and playing the piano. And so, she entered medical school as a bio and art major.
She actually went down the nursing path before going to medical school, with the thought that if she didn’t get into medical school, then she could still have a career in health care. She was also working as a nurse for three years between when she finished nursing school and when she went to medical school. When she started med school, she wanted to dedicate herself to her studies.
Shenelle thought she did way better in school than she would have done if she had gone straight. She had all that experience being on a healthcare team, taking care of people, and interacting with physicians. And so, it helped with everything that she did in medical school.
[09:18] Experiencing Bias as a Black Woman
Shenelle has always been aware of the fact that the higher up you go, the more homogenous the workforce becomes. And so, she learned very early on that she was going to be different. Shenelle stresses the importance of seeking mentors in the community. Social media, although a double-edged sword, is a place where you can find some help as well.'The lack of diversity – that's the calling card for you to be here for our communities.'Click To Tweet
Shenelle says that the World Health Organization actually expressed the need for more minority physicians back in the early 2000s. It hasn’t really happened, unfortunately, and so, all the more reason that students from underrepresented backgrounds should keep on.
Black physicians make up 5% of the workforce while about 14% of our population is Black. And so, we have this huge gap right there. Therefore, it’s important for the physician workforce to mimic what our society looks like.
[13:36] Bridging the Gap in the Workforce
Shenelle explains that we see this gap in the medical community because of our recruitment practices. For instance, the recruitment criteria don’t necessarily correlate to clinical productivity, or if you’ll be a good physician.
And so there has to be a change in the recruitment techniques and people should be recruiting for what we need, which is diversity.
More so, the education system leading up to those students taking the MCAT is probably a bigger part of the issue. It’s obviously a large systemic issue from history to get to this point.
That being said, physicians can make the most difference in their own recruitment practices. It’s not that people aren’t applying, it’s that they’re not being recruited.
Back in the 70s, or 60s, we already learned that standardized testing was completely biased. And it’s not because of the information, but it’s because standardized test taking is a learned skill.
Shenelle says that while we can’t maybe get to 14%, we can definitely get better than the 5% that we currently have. Unfortunately, the barriers that are put in place for everyone are just atrocious.
[20:16] Tackling the Lack of Shadowing Opportunities
According to Shenelle, there are a lot of ways to tackle increased shadowing opportunities. For one, medical schools should have those things in place. They should be working with a ton of different hospital systems.
Several hospitals have their own schools and academic physicians, so medical schools should have more premed and shadowing opportunities. That way, people don’t need to rely on their friends or their community to get shadowing experiences.
In terms of the Black community, Shenelle explains that in the ideal world, Black and Brown physicians would be able to mentor all of the Black and Brown premeds who are coming behind them. But they have to take into account that there are so many more responsibilities that black and brown physicians have.
Shenelle reveals that there are many of them who are still traumatized from their training and everything they went through. They’re trying to get out of it themselves. And so it’s very hard to give back and do mentoring, or even sound positive about the healthcare field that really has not been very kind to them.
Hence, it’s really the hospitals and the medical schools that should be doing way more for the premeds. And stakeholders, too, can leverage more opportunities for medical students.
[23:49] Gaslighting as a Deterrent to Diversity
Apparently, there are some stats about how black residents were dismissed from their residency programs at a much, much higher rate than their counterparts.
Shenelle mentions how she recently gave a talk on gaslighting being this hidden deterrent to diversity.'We have a legacy in this country of punishing black people and putting them in their place. And it doesn't really change when you get into any professional field.'Click To Tweet
This all stems back from history and medicine isn’t protected from it. And having this legacy of disciplining black people doesn’t change anywhere. People are given academic disciplinary probation, warnings, and dismissal from their programs or contracts not renewed at a higher rate for things that their co-residents wouldn’t get punished for.
Unfortunately, there is no scrutiny. Residency programs can do what they want to do. It’s all very much regionally and locally managed by the hospital. There’s no one they have to report to and there’s no oversight. And this results in low recruitment and high attrition.
[27:28] Tips in Looking for Residency Programs
Shenelle explains that since it’s a systemic thing, you really can’t avoid having an issue. There’s no way to necessarily protect yourself or have a safe space. You can make some informed decisions. If you know anybody who trained in the program, you can always ask.
But there’s no real way to know because you can’t really depend on other people. You can only control yourself. That’s why Shenelle is an advocate of having a Plan B, not as a fallback, but so you know what to do if the worst happens.
Shenelle also stresses the importance of soliciting feedback from someone who’s writing evaluations for you. And if you start feeling like there may be an issue, she recommends seeking legal advice early on. Because even if you show folks that you have someone in your corner, you’re not going to seem as much of a victim or vulnerable. You have to do your best to get support.
[31:05] Promoting Diversity in the Urology World
In 2020, Shenelle started Urology Unbound, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the recruitment, retention, and promotion of black urologists. They also have a pipeline program for medical students who are underrepresented in medicine (Black, Latinx, Alaska Native, Native American. etc.) They provide monthly webinars and access to mentors. They also do application reviews and mock interviews.
They also support residents through their annual residency bootcamp for incoming and current urology residents. They educate them about academic discipline and what to do to protect themselves.
Finally, Shenelle wishes to tell premeds that you’re desperately needed. Don’t let anyone stop you and don’t let anyone convince you that you’re not.