The WCBD Blog
"The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated." - James Baldwin
We introduced you all to what it means to be a WCBD Ambassador a few months ago. Now, the WCBD Ambassadors program has fully taken off! It's been only a few short months since we announced this opportunity to get involved with WCBD, and already over 50 students across 14 states have signed up to reach out and inspire the next generation. We have two ongoing pilots- one is at the undergraduate level, with medical students visiting colleges in their area to talk to pre-meds about everything from what to major in to how to spend a gap year.
The other pilot is taking place at the middle and high school level, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Ambassadors from Wake Forest University School of Medicine made their pre-med advising outreach an initiative run by their Student National Medical Association chapter. We interviewed Christel Wekon-Kemeni, a third-year medical student who has taken on a major leadership role in executing this initiative. Christel first reached out to us after an introduction at the annual National Medical Association meeting. His simple question was how to get his SNMA chapter involved in the community as Ambassadors. 40+ emails later, they've already conducted four visits to a local middle and high school. We wanted Christel to share a little bit about his experience in organizing these visits, and what it means to be an Ambassador. Check out the interview below, and if you're interested in joining our undergraduate pilots, sign up to be an Ambassador today!
Christel where are you from, and where'd you go to college?
I'm from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia- cities of Norfolk and Chesapeake specifically. And, I attended the University of Miami for college. Go Canes!!
Why did you want to get involved in the WCBD Ambassadors Program?
I decided to get involved with the WCBD Ambassadors Program because I understand how important and powerful it is to see someone who looks like you in a position that you would like to be in. Representation really does matter, and it can have a huge influence on what people decide to do with their lives. Although I was fortunate enough to know that I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare ever since high school, I still wish that I had the opportunity to have Black medical students come and talk to us when I was in high school. I say that because it would have not only given me even more ambition and drive to succeed, but it would have also provided a good amount of hope to me and my fellow classmates, some of whom never even considered a career in medicine as a possibility for themselves. With that said, I wanted to play an active role in engaging with students who want to establish successful careers in whatever they choose to pursue, as well as with students who don’t even realize how possible it is to pursue a career in healthcare. I also have an unrelenting desire to inspire individuals to become the best version of themselves that they can be. So, this program perfectly aligns with my own personal mission!
What was the most challenging part of being the lead organizer for your school's participation in the Ambassador Program?
As a third-year medical student, I don’t have nearly as much free time as I had in my first two years of med school. It doesn’t help that I tend to commit myself to multiple responsibilities at a time either. So with that said, I think that the most challenging part of being the lead organizer for my school’s participation in this program is having to coordinate presentation times between the schools and the student presenters while staying engaged in my clinical rotations and preparing for my shelf exams. Coordinating presentation times is a dynamic process that involves keeping the schedules of multiple people and the school systems in consideration and finding free time within each of their schedules in order to allow for a presentation to occur. Thank God for Doodle! However, having a supportive group of students who are willing to be flexible in their schedules in order to help promote this mission makes the job a whole lot easier!
What advice/encouragement do you have for other medical students who want to be WCBD Ambassadors?
Being a WCBD Ambassador has been a really rewarding opportunity! It allows you to interact with students who aspire to be in the shoes that you currently occupy and really forces you to put certain things into perspective. Talking with these bright-eyed hopeful students reminds you of where you once were early on in your journey towards a career in medicine and they end up motivating you to continue working towards your own vision of success. The best part about this whole program is that it really isn’t a hard thing to do! Plus, the WCBD founders are a great bunch of people and are more than willing to serve as a helpful resource for the advancement of this program at your institution. I definitely recommend becoming a WCBD Ambassador if you haven’t done so already!
I was wondering if you all had any tips to maintain natural hair. Currently it takes me about four hours (all at once) to detangle my hair once a week, plus an additional two to four hours to style it, shampoo and condition throughout the week. That time can really add up.
I don’t really want to relax or cut my hair (even though it might be easier) but if it comes down to it, I will. I feel like my hair is a symbol of defiance in a place where not a lot of people look like you. It reminds me of my culture and my power.
So after all of that, any tips or advice?
- No Time for Twist Outs
We understand that being a black woman in medicine can be difficult. Part of that struggle is exactly why we're here to help.
Just because you are pursuing a career in medicine doesn't mean you should have to lose who you are, or otherwise change what you feel is so integral a part of your being. Even within WCBD, we have founders who wear dreadlocks, relaxers, and natural hair. Some naturalistas (like myself) don't mind having "heat trained" hair and are able to wear their hair pressed, bunned or in a ponytail 24/7. But we also understand the desire to maintain your unadulterated natural texture.
As you go throughout your medical career, there will be ebbs and flows during your schedule much like in undergrad. Just like you may forgo doing your hair or getting it done during finals week, you may feel similarly when studying for a board exam or on your surgery rotation. During these times, some classmates opt to get braids or other low maintenance long term styles as they continue to grind. For many students, braids are a style that allow them to continue to express themselves culturally while not having to manipulate their hair on a daily basis.
Other students with natural hair continue to find time to maintain their hair. Some students take the summer (or semester of college) to master their wash-and-go so that they don't have to do more than fluff their "pineapple" and go during the week. We acknowledge that it may look slightly less than perfection by the end of the week, but medical school is a grind and everyone knows it. Another option I would encourage would be to have a stylist on hand that can do natural hair styles (twists, braids, perm rod sets) more efficiently than you may be able to. Even if she is simply twisting up your hair on Saturday, you wear it that way for two days while studying, you can rock a bomb twist-out from Tuesday to Friday. (Many stylists these days even let you book online, so you can always make adjustments to your changing availability.)
If you manage your time well, yes, many weeks you will be able to donate 6 hours of your time to doing your hair. However, I would not plan on this being the norm, particularly not as you are just starting to get a rhythm for how to master the material. Maintaining our hair is yet another obstacle that we have to conquer, but with adequate foresight and realistic expectations, we are confident you can graduate from medical school with the flowing, healthy tresses you came with (or better)!
Here at the WCBD headquarters- usually our living room or the student lounge at the hospital- we are often engaged in conversation about how we can effectively explain exactly what we're all about. Two of the most popular questions we get are "Do you have chapters at medical schools that I can join?" and "How can I get more involved?" The answers? "Not really." and "You tell us!" Clear as mud, we know.
The thing is, White Coats Black Doctors is not a fraternity, nor student organization. We are a nonprofit foundation driven by grassroots efforts of students and supporters across the country. It's your purchasing of merchandise to fund scholarships and community outreach, your volunteerism mentoring young people who want to pursue this journey, your endless advocacy for fairness and representation that carries the mission forward. Over 12 years ago, the Council on Graduate Medical Education in the 2005 "Minorities in Medicine" report, 'Lack of persistence in completing high school and failure to enroll in and graduate from college are the greatest barriers to URM entry into medicine.' So, you can get creative with how you "get more involved" simply by meeting the needs in your community, to help increase the number of black boys and girls becoming black college graduates who eventually become black physicians.
Kelley Butler is a perfect example.
Kelley is a second-year medical student at UC Irvine School of Medicine. We were excited to come across a video of Kelley teaching a group of 9th graders in her local community about sex ed and puberty, all while sporting some WCBD 'nalia. We were so happy to see Kelley take the WCBD mission to reach out to the next generation of black physicians, to mentor, inspire, and show how this movement is more than a fashion statement. We interviewed Kelley about her outreach efforts via email, and hope you'll learn a little something that will encourage you to take up the WCBD mission and make it your own.
If you're interested in becoming a WCBD Ambassador, click here.
Here at WCBD, our goal is to support the developing future black doctors of America. As they stand on the precipice between medical school and residency, fourth-year medical students are perhaps the most in need of support from older, wiser docs who can help students navigate their way across the mysterious and sometimes frightening journey of residency interviews. No amount of color-coded spreadsheets can soothe an anxious interviewees mind as well as some practical advice from a physician who's successfully done this before.
We caught up with Dr. Bennal Perkins, a Hospitalist & Clinical Assistant Professor at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, for advice on how to navigate the residency interview. Mentoring medical students is a big passion and priority for Dr. Perkins. "This can be a scary process and sometimes it's hard without any guidance," she shared with us via email. "Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to for mentorship, encouragement, or to share great news!"
And, because she can't meet every fourth-year one-on-one, Dr. Perkins offered up some of her time-tested interview questions, as well as some tips to make residency program visits productive and informative. Making the decision of how to rank programs that will shape the rest of your career is no small feat. But, with these pieces of advice from Dr. Perkins, you'll go in feeling confident to show off your very best self to the interviewers, and feel qualified to discern which program is the right one for you.
The interview questions are listed below, and if you click the blue "Scribd." link you can also download the questions and tips document to your own computer.
What Our Supporters Are Saying
During the 2016 Howard University commencement address, President Barack Obama said to the graduates, "Be confident in your Blackness." WCBD is at the forefront of this movement in addition to promoting peak Black Excellence. I could not be more proud yet humbled by rocking this apparel and supporting the overall mission.