Black Women Doctors Take Center Stage: Dramatic Rise in Physicians and Dentists Reflect Societal Changes

By Foston, Nikitta | Ebony, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Black Women Doctors Take Center Stage: Dramatic Rise in Physicians and Dentists Reflect Societal Changes


Foston, Nikitta, Ebony


SPURRED on by the Freedom Movement and the Women's Liberation Movement, Black women are assuming a bold new presence in medical offices, hospitals and medical schools.

Within the last 30 years, the number of Black women doctors has risen to over 8,000 practicing physicians, an increase that reflects changes in the medical profession as a whole. From 1970 to 2000, the total number of women practicing medicine increased by 16 percent; and women, Black, White and Brown, now represent 45 percent of all entering medical students.

It is scarcely surprising therefore, that women are breaking enrollment records at historically Black medical colleges, representing 58 percent of the student body at Morehouse School of Medicine, 44 percent at Meharry Medical College and 36 percent at Howard University College of Medicine.

"Women are no longer restricted to the role of nurse, and Black women in particular, are stepping to the forefront of the profession," says Dr. Lauri Givens, a second-year obstetrics and gynecology resident at Chicago's Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

There has been a similar shift in dental schools, where from 1984 to 2002 female enrollment doubled. At Howard University's College of Dentistry, the fifth oldest dental school in the United States, Sisters represent 52 percent of the enrollment. At Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, Sisters represent 55 percent of the total dental enrollment and 43 percent of the most recent graduating class. According to a study conducted by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Black women make up 59.3 percent of all Black dental school students. Among Whites, women make up only one-third of all dental students.

Not only are Black women excelling as students, they are also among the leaders of the profession. Four of the last 10 presidents of the National Medical Association were Black women. Two of the three women to serve as surgeon general or acting surgeon general of the United States were Black women--Dr. Joycelyn Elders and Dr. Audrey E Manley. Dr. PonJola Coney is dean of Meharry School of Medicine. Dr. Pamela Redden, chief of staff of Huron Hospital in East Cleveland, Ohio, is only one of numerous Black women holding major staff positions around the country, and Dr. Joye M. Carter of Houston is the first Black chief medical examiner in the United States.

These achievements are a marked and welcome change from the situation in the '40s and '50s when brilliant Black women students were routinely advised to go into nursing. …

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