Though she survived high school, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) alumna Aprylle Thompson, MD, was not unscathed — she was shunned by white classmates and taunted with racial slurs meant to denigrate her Black heritage. College seemed to lessen the racial bias, studying among those of the same color, but clinical rotations killed the progress when she overheard superiors say she succeeded because of diversity quotas.
“They said Black people were tokens and not qualified. I’ve always heard negative comments but I choose to ignore them. My mom said it’s important to stay level-headed, be careful with my reactions and my words because people are always watching. That always pops up in my head when I am under attack. I quickly learned just how harsh the world could be.”
As the general-surgery resident at Rutgers begins her post, she wants to forgo past slights and ignorant comments, focusing instead on education. “If I have patients who don’t want me to treat them because of the color of my skin, I want to learn why so maybe I can educate them. Sometimes the perception is that if you’re a different race, then maybe you’re not as qualified. We all went to medical school and I know just as much and I am just as capable as my white colleague. I don’t want a situation to escalate or to hinder a patient’s care but if having a simple conversation can change minds, I’ll do it.”
Support for BLM
Aprylle believes the Black Lives Matter Movement has been a global wake-up call and she applauds her white peers who are defending their Black counterparts. “All lives matter but right now, our race needs help so we can be treated equally.”
Protesting on the front line and raising awareness on social media, Aprylle believes change is happening — “The younger generation — Black and white — are fighting so hard for this, and they’re tomorrow’s generation, which means they’ll soon be in charge of leading the world.” She also hopes for a demographic switch in residency programs. “I am the only Black person in the room every single time. We need to look at who’s in the room and change it for the next year. Small steps now will make a great impact later.”
When Aprylle was 10 years old, she earned a perfect score on a science exam and exclaimed she had the smarts to become a doctor. Though she once paused to consider law, she quickly jumped back on the medical road after caring for a relative with a rare condition. And once she hit the anatomy lab in school, there was no doubt. “From the muscles to the nerves to the blood vessels — I loved every part of it and couldn’t get enough. Then I took the trauma surgery elective and it felt like home.”
Overcoming Bumps in the Road
Born in Jamaica, Aprylle spent her school years in New York and Florida. Thanks to COVID-19, she and her fiancé had to postpone wedding plans but she’s taking it in stride. “This disease is putting a lot of people through a rigorous test to see if they can function in a high-stress environment and make critical decisions.”
It seems the current racial climate is doing the same. “Now is the chance to really instill change. It won’t start on a clean slate because of the past but we can work together for the future. It’s hard to be judged because of your skin color every single day but if my white brothers and sisters work with us instead of against us, this world will be a better place.”
RUSM Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce
A group of 16 RUSM students, faculty, colleagues and alumni have begun leading a holistic review of diversity and inclusion at the University and will deliver a report of short- and long-term recommendations within the next three months. This is the first of many steps to sustain change at the infrastructure level.
As RUSM prepares to engage, train, educate, advocate and invest in this process to align with the Black community at our University and in all the underrepresented and marginalized communities in which we serve, we invite others to share feedback with us because we know the fight for social justice is a community collaboration.