Vital Times 2020 - 79

JUSTICE, EQUITY,
DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION

Invisible Doctor:
Black Men in Medicine
Adam J. Milam, MD, PhD

L

ast month, Dr.
Oluwadamilola
Fayanju, a Surgical
Oncologist at Duke
University wrote a thoughtprovoking opinion piece
in JAMA entitled, Hiding in
Plain Sight. In this piece,
Dr. Fayanju discusses her
superpower-the fact that
she can hide in plain sight, when she is not in her
white coat. This is far too common among female
physicians, especially African Americans; I have
heard countless instances very similar to what Dr.
Fayanju describes in the article. She describes this
as a gift and a curse. When she does not have on her
white coat, she can observe patients within a health
care setting but outside the role [she] typically plays in
clinical contexts. [She] can see how they are buffeted
and battered in small but cumulative ways throughout
the day and, indeed, throughout their lives.
Dr. Fayanju's thoughtful article motivated me to share
my own experiences. As a 5'9 " , 190-pound African
American, I'm rarely invisible - even the times when
I want to be invisible. I stand out. People notice me
and watch me closely, especially police officers,
security guards, and employees at retail stores. My
appearance (i.e. my black skin) often makes me

intimidating to people. My appearance (i.e. my black
skin) makes me intimidating, " people are afraid to say
anything to [me] because I'm black and they don't
want to be called racist " or " they assume I will start
swinging when I'm upset. "
During my junior year at Johns Hopkins University
(JHU), I was completing a neighborhood assessment
as part of a JHU research study in a neighborhood
directly adjacent to JHU's Homewood campus.
After being in the neighborhood for ten minutes,
police arrived and questioned why I was in the
neighborhood. In a city that is predominately African
American, the city that raised me, the city where
I had been volunteering since I was 10 - I had
to justify my presence. The police officers said a
resident called 911 reporting a suspicious person
in the neighborhood. The officers continued to
question me until I showed them my Hopkins' student
identification card, because, of course, my Maryland
driver's license was not sufficient. I was humiliated
and furious afterward. I sent a letter to the president
of JHU, the mayor and the police commissioner. It
turns out that the police responded to a non-urgent
call in less than six minutes for an African American
male walking on the sidewalk of a neighborhood
directly adjacent to his college campus. I am not
invisible.

Annual Publication 2020

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Vital Times 2020

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