Black History Month - Transcript

Dr. Erica Oliver - RUSM 2018

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Dr. Oliver completed her bachelor’s of science at Tuskegee University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Tuskegee, Alabama, before completing her masters of public health at the University of South Florida with a concentration in maternal and child health. Oliver attended Ross University School of Medicine (Ross Med) 2018, graduating with honors. 

Dr. Anthony Adetomiwa, RUSM 2019

Born in Nigeria, Dr. Anothony Adetomiwa received his bachelor’s in science from the University of Texas at Arlington, followed by a master’s in public health with a focus in health advocacy, before beginning his residency in pediatrics. 

Dr. Sean Johnson, AUC 2011

Dr. Sean Johnson was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He attended undergrad at the University of Central Florida before attending American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). He now works as a cardiothoracic surgeon based out of a private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Q: Why do you think diversity is important today?

Dr. Oliver:  I think it's very important for many, many reasons. From a personal standpoint, walking into a room with a physician, a therapist, an accountant, a realtor -- whatever in life you're trying to seek -- when you find someone that looks like you, for me it’s a small relief. I feel a little more relaxed that they're going to hear what I'm saying, and that I might have a great experience now. This is not always the case, but that's the initial feeling you get. 

When it comes to medicine, it's so important to have a diverse population, racially and culturally. With the long-standing history of mistrust that has been passed down generation to generation, if we as black physicians, or whatever race or culture we are, if we preach to our people with the truth and the facts, they're more likely to accept it from us than someone that doesn't look like them or follow the same cultural trends they do. So it's very important to understand your population and really just be open to different people's past and stories.

From a pediatric standpoint, my quick example with that would be how we're up in Detroit. There’s a huge Arabic population here, a huge Muslim population. Ramadan is new to me. When I got here I didn't know about Ramadan, so to have a kid come in who I'm saying “No, you can't eat from a certain period of time or you have to take medicine during this time,”  I'm not respecting that they're in fast right now and my great co-residents did beautiful lectures to make us more culturally competent on these situations. Having that diversity in medicine is very, very important.

Dr. Adetomiwa: From my standpoint I feel like if you don't have enough diversity in any situation, in any place that you're in, you kind of stagnate. You'll more or less become stagnant when it comes to diverse ideas. If you have the same train of thought and usually from the same people with the same cultural backgrounds, of course you won't really have the full spectrum of things.

A lot of times, and I'm sure in the year 2020 we've seen a lot of situations and circumstances where some advertisements or a display here and there may have been culturally insensitive and we always ask, especially as black folk, we will ask “was there anybody of our color or a part of the culture in that decision making process?” When you have more diversity everywhere  then you're really able to have a wider scope of how to attack different issues and hopefully have a wider scope of solutions available as well.

Once again, like what Dr. Oliver mentioned, just being a pediatrician for me I feel like when you're able to teach a child at a young age, you raise a child up, they'll come away, they won't depart from it. It's the same thing in the same manner here, where you teach a child that you can become a physician, you can become an engineer, you can be a lawyer, you can do whatever you set your mind to. You can be a rapper, you can be a basketball player, right? We see these things as kids growing up. We see these things. We see LeBron James, Michael Jordan. We see all of these rappers and that's what they want to become, when you ask a lot of these kids. When we have more people of different ethnicities going back to the communities and making an impact and showing them, hey, this is where I was. I used to grow up here, too, but this is where I'm at now, or it's cool for you to do these things. It's cool and appropriate for you to have these high ambitions, then for sure it'll be easier for them to be able to get these different organizations and different decision-making processes in order for us to actually affect actual change.

Dr. Johnson: I would agree with you 100 percent,  Dr. Adetomiwa in terms of the way in which our presence inspires the young community, you know what I mean. It's like, “yeah, well someone looks like me and I can become a physician. I think there's nothing wrong with becoming a rapper, I think there's nothing wrong with becoming an athlete, but I think to your point, it just helps to broaden the horizon and the awareness. I think what’s lacking, just to go back to the heart of the question, why diversity is so important is because it breaches, or I should say it bridges, awareness, you know what I mean? While you guys were talking I kind of jotted down a few points that came to me, but I think diversity is important, you know, going back to what Dr. Oliver was commenting on, in a clinical setting, where she’s with her patients, she’s learning about Ramadan and cultural aspects --  it helps to connect with the human being. I feel like sometimes we go through all this training. We do all this residency and medical school but we forget once we walk into a room that we have to connect with a patient. I’ll give you an example. When I was a chief in general surgery, some of my interns, they walk into a room and the first thing they do before turning on the lights is, they would move the covers off the patient and lift up their gowns and I say “Well, do you just walk up to someone on the outside of the hospital and just like pull up their gown?” Of course you don’t. First you have to acknowledge the patient. You have to connect with them and that helps things breathe.

Taking things a step further, I think diversity is important because it helps in compliance. Especially in the African community, I see a lot of times because of what Dr. Oliver mentioned that mistrust, at times it’s like, well, I don’t know, should I take this, or not? I realize when you, for one, connect with the person and they see you as themselves, they’re like “You know what? Dr. Johnson cares about me, I should probably try to take this.” I notice how the compliance has just improved so much for me. I think diversity is huge, and when it’s lacking, I think it’s a matter of patient safety. 

Q: Please speak to your experience as a black medical student at your institutions, including challenges and excitements along the way

Dr. Oliver: As a black medical student, I think I actually had a great experience with Ross Med. I connected well with the administration and my professors. For me personally, I felt like any issues or questions I had were respected. Ross Med let us create the organizations we wanted and they also had all these organizations in place that we could be a part of. Whether you love pediatrics, or you were in the organization of African Society, you had a place to be. It was honestly beautiful to go to Ross Med and see so many faces that looked like mine while applying to medical schools and seeing their classes, you either saw none of our faces, or maybe one or two -- It wasn’t a lot. But there were a lot of us and we were very, very close. We have stayed very, very close. I just really love that, and also what just Adtalem is doing to increase diversity, they’re really practicing what they preach, which is very appreciated.  We all get excited if we see each other, doing interview trails and stuff, I’m like “Oh, it’s a Rossi! They’re from AUC!” 

Dr. Adetomiwa: Thank god I don’t have any negative experiences. Nothing that really just, like, scarred me for life. I just had a patient the other day and it was a black mom and of course her daughter that came in for some medical help and when I was just about to leave the room, she told me “I’m proud of you.” That's something that I can say I’ve experienced, even while being a student. It’s always known that when you’re a medical student, that you don’t really get treated that well, or most times when you go into the room, you introduce yourself, “Hey, my name is Anthony, I’m a medical student, is it okay if i can talk to you?” the majority of the time they’re like “No, please get me a real doctor. Get out of here.” I don’t want to waste my breath. But a lot of times I would actually go into the room, a lot of black families would actually embrace me and they’ll be proud of me and tell me just to keep pushing on and keep going. Those were the types of things that really inspired me to want to give back, to kind of bring that to every culture, any culture possible. I feel like those were some of the most memorable black experiences that I had for sure. 

Dr. Johnson:  I think for me it was in medical school, on the island. There was like a very, very small knit community, with faces that look like us. In particular I remember there was a small Nigerian community and you know, we just got on so well. They were like the cream of the crop. They were just super intelligent, just phenomenal physicians to be around at that time. I think that’s some of my best experiences. Just the relationships, like making those relationships with people, because you literally can do medical school anywhere, you know? Medicine is the same whether you go to Thailand or whether you go to England. But I think what makes the difference is the experiences with the people around you. It can either make you hate your environment or love it, and I’ll be honest with you, I loved every moment at AUC, because of the people that were with me, cheering me on. To me, that was one of my favorite experiences. I can’t really recall any negative experiences, per se.  

Q:  As African-American students, what were your reasons for attending a school in the Caribbean versus attending a medical school in the United States?

Dr. Oliver: I used to say I am the queen of the struggle bus. I have struggled taking the MCAT. I applied to U.S. medical schools three times, and no one would give me a chance. No one. I was like, I have to do something, because since I was born I was to become a physician. Or an ice skate, but my mama knew that wasn’t going to work. 

I started looking up my options, and Caribbean school popped up. Ross Med literally had an informational meeting in Atlanta in the fall of 2017. It’s actually where I first met John over there. I went and I was like, hey, they have all the resources. I applied and it was the best decision I ever made. I tell people now, in hindsight, my first time applying I would apply to U.S. schools and I would apply to Caribbean schools and that would have saved me a few years, but I am where I am. 

Dr. Adetomiwa: For me, a similar story. The MCAT was the bane of my existence. I hated it, hated it. I always felt like I would get like one step closer. I think I had about three rounds and, the funny thing is, from the first round of applications my mom was telling me, she was like, yo -- this is great because she’s a nurse and thank god for her life, and she was telling me “I know some great physicians. They went to this school, Ross University School of Medicine, you should really think about it.”

What’s so unfortunate is the stigma, and I’ve honestly made it my life’s goal and promise to try to eradicate that stigma. It’s horrible. So I didn’t apply to Ross Med that first round, but towards the second round and the third round, that’s when I finally applied and I got in. I got into Ross Med, just like Erica said, had this amazing, amazing experience. The best. Honestly, I’m grateful for it. When you go into medical school and you go into your fourth year, your rotations, a lot of the physicians who are there tell you “You’re an amazing doctor,” you know. “You have an amazing bedside manner, you did this.” Honestly, I mean no shade with American counterparts, but at least for where I was rotating. That amazing recommendation for the things you were able to do as a student compared to other students was high, and it was really, purely because of Ross Med. Everyone who went to Ross Med during my rotations, everyone spoke highly of them. I was beyond grateful for that, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but the fact that you’re even going to the Caribbean, where it is honestly underserved. There’s not a lot of amazing medical facilities there. There are a couple, for sure, but just being able to go back and give back. Giving back to the people, people who look similarly to you, that’s huge. That was my experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Dr. Johnson: I really believe that the media, and I’ll personalize this in a second, but the medical school process up to this point, specifically for the African-American community, it’s one that’s very discouraging and I think that these sort of panel discussions are so important because success cannot be warranted without failure. It’s just impossible. Someone tells you they haven’t failed, I wonder if they really have true success. My failure came back in 2006. Like the other panelists, I attempted the MCAT. I think I got maybe a 20 at best on the MCAT, and I was like “Well, what should I do? Should I actually continue?” I was graduating with a degree in molecular biology in my undergrad, should I go on to grad school, which I think is a great option for those applicants who do that, or should I continue to try to get into medical school? For me, at that time, I had a sense of urgency, as far as just starting medicine. I’ve always wanted, since I was five, I wanted to be a surgeon. I’ve always known, more in my 20’s than I realized, I wanted to be a cardiac surgeon. So I was like you know what, “I want to go for this.” I had a reasonable GPA. I think when I applied to schools, I applied to a lot of Florida schools as well. Didn’t get into any of them, didn’t even get interviews. 

After a while, I think you get to the point where you’re like “We regret to inform you…” those words just go through your mind. Like, man, is this all I’m good for? I think what happens is it starts to affect your self-worth. It starts to affect your confidence and it starts to affect your outlook on the process, so I’m here to tell you, today, it’s all a lie. Don’t let these games play on your mind, just because you didn’t score the best on your MCAT like myself. Just because you didn't get the big interviews to the institutions you wanted to, that's okay because I'll be honest with you,  AUC was one of the best decisions I've made in my entire life. The other panelists, we're not ashamed of our process. We're actually proud of it, you know, how we got here. That’s sort of how it happened and the rest was history from there. 

Q: Did you have any difficulties obtaining a residency or feeling restricted to a specific state as either a Ross Med or AUC grad?

Dr. Oliver: I say shouts out to you guys, you do put the pressure, because you all, you want us to match. You want the best for your kids which is completely understandable, so they tell you to apply broadly. You miss every shot you don’t take. Ross Med prepared me so well that, honestly, I didn’t need to apply to all of those programs. I did well on my United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) Step exams, courtesy of the resources, of course, my fire, but then the resources that Ross Med offered to help me study for these Step exams, so I performed well. The relationship with different hospitals that Ross Med has were well-known facilities, so we had a great reputation. Our attendings loved us, we were able to get great recommendation letters. My application was A1. I will say so myself, you know in all my interviews they spoke highly of it, it got to the point I was turning down interviews. I thank Ross Med, my medical parent, for that and myself and my actual mom, but yeah. I  started turning down interviews and I got my number one choice

Dr. Adetomiwa: It's really just about the whole process. For the first two years of basic sciences you're grinding, trying to make sure your GPA is amazing, and during your clinical years you're working on your bedside manner, physical exam skills. Of course you're trying to take your shelf exams, which are based on each arc of medicine- surgery, family medicine, and so on.

As you're doing all these things, because of the people that are around you, because of the foundations that were set by Ross Med, you really go into the world, into the workforce with a really specific mindset to really go and get it. If you go to Ross Med, AUC, many of these Caribbean schools really have that mindset to go and get it and really put your best foot forward.  The same thing happened when we were applying to residency programs as well. I didn't apply to pediatrics and family medicine or other rotations but I decided to just purely apply to pediatrics and thank god, too, just like Dr. Oliver, I got into my first choice and we were turning down things.

You can have that same testimony too, don't be afraid of yourself. Don't doubt yourself. Ross Med and AUC will prepare you for that.

Dr. Johnson:  For me, I apply it only to general surgery. I still recall going on interviews and other applicants or U.S. counterparts and medical schools, and they kind of looked down upon it. They were like “Oh, you're from AUC? Okay, yeah.”

I say to that, I matched. I matched into my third choice actually, and I applied to maybe seven programs -- I think it was like seven, definitely under ten -- and I was very, very pleased because at that time, in 2006, general surgery was…  I mean it's hard now, but it was hard then to get into. I had some people discourage me along the way but I was grateful to god just to get in, and I didn't have to apply, like the other panelists, I didn't apply to other specialties. I just was like “Well, this is what I want to do with my life and I know it's what I have to do,” and they came through and it provided me with the opportunity.

Q:  As you all were in medical school, did you join any specific clubs or organizations and get additional practical experience while going through your basic sciences?

Dr. Adetomiwa: Absolutely. Organization of African Students, SNMA, even one of the medical fraternities, Phi delta Epsilon, as well. Just being able to, because we were in the Caribbean, we were able to actually go into the communities and get that practical experience. That's huge because when you start your rotations and when you start a residency and even for the rest of your medical career, people remember that. Patients remember that. So these different organizations are definitely what were key from the study sessions that we had, getting ready for exams. People who were mentoring us, the practical experiences, it was everything for me.

Dr. Oliver: We had this amazing experience during my time on the island. Outside of all the organizations available, being able to go do these clinicals. But the best was the USS Comfort, the Navy ship was doing their six-month tour around the Caribbean and they came while we were there and we got to sign up and work with the military treating patients in the community. It was like their one opportunity to get certain treatment, just something simple.

There was dental, they’re getting teeth pulled or getting root canals. Seeing surgeries like we saw, I was able to go and see hernia repairs and it was amazing, like amazing. I loved talking about it in my interviews because it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Then I was a part of the Pediatrics Club, which I loved, and also Ross Med Global Public Health, which I have actually began working with, became the president of.  We hosted the tough mudder, which was great; where the students signed up as teams and which raised money to buy a kid a heart or help them with some type of surgery. I just remember that day, of all the students just running around campus, sliding across the slippery slide across one of our fields and on the beach, trying to crawl through tunnels and everything. It was great to have these clubs and opportunities available to us while also studying all the time.

Dr. Johnson: Yeah, I think it's pretty cool to kind of join clubs while you're on the island. Actually, my guidance counselor told me “Sean, when you first start out, take the first semester just to make sure you can get through your semester and then go into clubs and stuff,” which I thought was great advice, at least for me. That transitional period, afterwards I joined SNMA. I actually served as a vice president and president for a semester each at SNMA, so that was cool. I became an anatomy and histology teaching assistant, big surprise there, and also I was a housing residency advisor too, for a little bit. That helped because they paid your rent, so that was pretty cool. 

I was also in the Alpha Omega Phi honor society, so we got a chance to do community projects around and stuff like that so it was pretty cool to join clubs. It really just keeps you energized and reminds you why you're doing this, you know what I mean? Because you know once you go to block exams, it's nice when you have a community event that evening just to kind of  refresh yourself, so it's cool.

Q: When it comes to communicating with nurses, as physicians do, you work with nurse practitioners and how is that interaction working with the nursing staff at these hospitals?

Dr. Oliver: They're your number one teammate. They're your partner, so respect all your nurses. Respect anyone you come across in the hospital, in life. Have that respect. I make it a point that whoever I see in the halls in the morning, I'm saying good morning to. No matter what, at our hospital me and Anthony, we do have nurses and nurse practitioners, and they have their favorite attendings, so once again: respect everyone. Do that good rapport, take what they say into account, and when they tell you something is going on with the patient, who they've been with all day, don't just blow it off, listen and take into account and sometimes explain what you're doing with them instead of just giving orders. I would say that helps with the relationship. The better relationship you have with your auxiliary staff, the better.

Dr. Adetomiwa:  If there's anything that you should do, just like she said, do not piss off the nursing staff at all. Nurse practitioners as well. They’re still part of your staff. Anybody who's working with you, the MA's, everybody, because ultimately as a physician you know people look up to you. Even as you're coming in as an intern, some of the older nurses who've been working there for like 20-30 years, they still expect you and actually want you to grow as well. The main thing is if you have a great relationship with them, even if you don't know anything, ask them or see what they would do in the situation. Whatever experiences they have, take it and hopefully you guys are able to work together as a team, because it is a healthcare system, a healthcare team, to be able to bring the best health to any patient who may be sick in the hospital.

Dr. Johnson: I would agree guys, your nurses are like your confidants okay? You'll see why eventually, especially when it comes to litigation, when it comes to patient safety, when it comes to overall happiness. 

These things are super important. You always want a nurse on your side and let me just give you my perspective. First of all, as an intern, general surgery intern, you're trying to figure out okay, the finals. How do I get this? How do I get that? You're like, okay, is the nurse gonna help me? Okay they're not gonna help me all. Let me go find information myself before my chief rats me out.

The nurses actually taught me loads of things. For instance, I was doing procedures and they were showing me you know, “Dr. Johnson, you know you can do it.” They were encouraging me and they were telling me what to do, walking me through the steps. I think going into my second year of training, that's when I really saw the validity of the nurse-doctor relationship and now it’s to the point where I trust what my nurses say.

If I'm at home and there's a very experienced cardiac nurse taking care of a post-op patient and they're like “Hey, something is wrong,”  I'm hopping in the car and I'm coming to the hospital, because they have a sixth sense and they know what's going on. You have to trust, and like Dr. Oliver mentioned earlier you have to develop that relationship with them, because it will be one of your best helps. Just don't try to have ego with them, don't always try to prove yourself to them. It's not necessary, and I think that's something I learned very early on. there's no need to prove your knowledge to them. If you come to them as a team advocate, patient advocate, trust me, they're going to work with you every time. These are difficult personalities, absolutely and that's how having all those strong interpersonal skills helps you not only with patients and also with your colleagues, which are your nurses there too.

Q: Did you have any role models before coming to Ross Med or to AUC that you looked up to?

Dr. Adetomiwa: I wish I did. I definitely wish I did. If anything, in regards to a physician or someone who knew the process and would tell me to do A, B and C in order for you to achieve your goal. One person without a doubt that's always been there in my corner for sure is my mom. She's a nurse, like I mentioned earlier in this conversation, and it's really because of her I had that love for medicine. She would come back from work and she would tell me her stories, but I wish I had somebody who knew the process and could lead me along the way. I did get one though while in Ross Med, who's also a pediatrician as well, Dr. Marilynn Quarter, from my rotations in Maryland.  At the time she herself was also a pediatrician, and it was because of her -- she was able to kind of guide me and mold me into who I am today as well.

Dr. Oliver: Slightly similar to Anthony in the sense that leading up to medical school, I had my support system that even as I'm falling down, tripping over trying to get to this goal I say I want, they are cheering me on non-stop. My mother cheered me on non-stop, my grandmother when she was alive would let me check her blood sugars and help her do her physical therapy exercises as I'm like six, seven-years old. Dr. Kate McPaul, who is a neuroscience researcher now. In L.A, he had me in his lab and he just really pushed me. Then I reached my goal, I made it to medical school. Through my clinical rotations I was mostly at Atlanta Medical Center. Dr. Lisa Periguilt, one of my EMT attendings, I still text her to this day. She's always had me, been in my corner. Dr. Andy Barfield, Pediatric GI Specialist in New York I met at an AMMA conference and she was like “You're applying for a residency? I got you. I'll review your application head-to-toe.” She ripped my personal statement to the most beautiful pieces ever and put it back together, and same thing for fellowship. I hit her up and she was right there,  ready to make sure my application was ready for perfection. I am really, really grateful for that and Chanel, I love her. She really goes hard for Ross Med and AUC and for black representation and diversity in the medical community. She makes sure our faces are seen throughout everything that Ross Med does, I just really really appreciate that.

Dr. Johnson: For me, mentorship kind of came the reverse way. I didn't have a ton of mentors like Dr. Adetomiwa. For me, I remember this one professor in invertebrate histology. It was one of those classes that people were meant to fail, but for some reason (I don't know why), he said to me “You'll do well.” For some reason I did extremely well in his course. I'd say about half the class was failing by the time, three quarters of the class, and I just remember one time he found out I wanted to go to medical school and he knew I was retaking the MCAT and I was trying to look for him for support and for guidance. He's like “Man, why would you want to go to medical school you know with non-competitive scores like that?” I will never forget that because he has no idea how much he encouraged me that day. I left there more inspired than ever. I just needed a little bit more of a kick, to encourage me and push me in the direction I should be going.  His name is Dr. Lopez, so I thanked him. He was one of my mentors, indirectly, before medical school.

I really enjoyed Dr. Ben Carson. Before going to med school I read all of his books. He's a little different now but I really enjoyed him then. It‘s a whole other conversation, but he was definitely pivotal and I don't know if many of you have gotten a chance to look at his demographics and where he came from, he was a kid failing and turned his whole life around and went to the top of his class, performed one of the most life-jeopardizing surgeries in the world. World renown and I had a little like mentorship from him you know, indirectly. Lastly, I'd agree with the other panelists. My mother has always taught me “Sean, it's not the altitude in life it's your attitude that determines how high you go.” She's always been there in my corner. Moments when I failed more than I had success, then I succeeded, she was there to encourage me, to push me and you need people in your corner, you need to know sort of like a boxing match, you know? You box, box, you box, you box, box and in-between every round, you go to the corner and if you notice every time they go to the corners, when they get refreshed, their coach is like  “Come on, you can do it, keep going man. Keep going!” You need people in your corner who aren’t going to beat you down more but who'll lift you up.