UBC Medicine has graduated less than forty Black medical students in the school’s 70-year history. Despite being the fifth largest medical class in North America and the largest in Canada, there have been mostly zero or one, and rarely two Black medical students in each class of 288 UBC medical students. Because of the lack of race-based data collection, we do not even have the numbers to fully document the significant underrepresentation problem in residency, fellowship, and staff positions – although our collective experiences of being the only Black doctor in many wards make it evident. Furthermore, through our engagement with previous UBC Medicine graduates, we have learned there is a general pattern of Black trainees leaving the province immediately after their training due to their experiences of isolation, overt and salient forms of racism, and an institutional culture that does not provide support for Black trainees to succeed.
The failure of academic institutions to recruit and retain Black physicians impacts the academic community by depriving it access to a group of scholars who are enriched with lived experiences and diverse perspectives. It also harms Black patients who have historically been understudied and underserviced both in BC and in Canada.
In an effort to address these issues of underrepresentation and institutionalized racism, Black Physicians of British Columbia (BPBC) was formed as a grassroots effort in 2020. The association’s membership comprises Black medical students, residents, fellows and staff physicians who are training and practicing in BC. The pillars of BPBC’s mission are advocacy, mentorship, and community.
In our advocacy efforts to tackle institutionalized anti-Black racism and improve representation of Black trainees in UBC medicine, we created concrete action plans based on our collective personal and leadership experiences. We communicated these recommendations as a call-to-action to the UBC Faculty of Medicine in October 2020. These recommendations include implementation of a Black student MD application program, mandatory anti-racist workshops that address anti-Black racism, and dedication of resources to fund mentorship efforts toward Black high school and undergraduate students.
Aside from our advocacy work in improving recruitment of Black trainees in BC, our members serve as one-on-one mentors for prospective students who are applying to medical schools. We also organize mentorship events such as our upcoming Medical School 101 event where we have the opportunity to discuss a career in medicine with young Black students across the province and share our journeys to the field.
In regards to creating a community of support for Black physicians and trainees, we have been building our membership to ensure that we include Black physicians who are practicing in the North, Interior, and on the Island, as the experience of isolation can be even more pronounced in those areas.
We look forward to connecting with any Black physicians or trainees who are interested in joining our association in our continuous venture to create a strong and supportive Black medical community across the province.
Dr. Rahel Zewude
Founder and President, Black Physicians of British Columbia
Internal medicine resident, UBC