Sunday, December 24, 2017

Young, Black & A Doctor: The Job Search

Image Credit: Common Sense
Author: Joshua A. Sherman, MD
Clinical Faculty, Department of Emergency Medicine, Advocate Christ Medical Center
Originally published: Common Sense November/December 2017

My story isn’t unique, but that in and of itself makes it worth writing. My name is Joshua Sherman; a New Orleans native, Chicago transplant and newly-minted Attending Emergency Physician in a busy Level 1 Trauma Center on Chicago’s south side. I, like most everyone reading this, spent seemingly endless years, days and hours in pursuit of this career and have yet to stop replaying in my mind the feeling that I felt as I walked across the stage on June 8th, 2017, to receive my final ‘diploma’ (aka residency completion certificate). It was the uncertainty of the months immediately before and after this date, however, that have continually been at the forefront of my thoughts and that, ultimately, contributed to my desire to write this.

The pathway — though difficult, time-consuming and wrought with sacrifice at every stage — is supposed to be fairly well-laid-out: college, medical school, residency and finally, the ideal job. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from months of faculty position interviews, though, it’s that this “ideal job” is more of a fairytale than anything.

According to U.S. Census Bureau Data, as of 2016, the United States’ population was reported to be a little over 323 million. Of that number, roughly 13% self-identified as Black or African-American and ~18% as Hispanic or Latino. Compare that to the population of physicians in the U.S., of which African Americans constitute only ~4%. This, in the context of a job search, makes for an interesting experience for someone such as myself: a 30-year-old African-American male, raised in the public housing system of inner-city New Orleans by a single mother of two.

I, like most people who choose emergency medicine, think myself to be a strong leader, sociable, personable, non-judgmental, caring, etc. While I certainly have a thing for academic pursuits — i.e., knowledge acquisition and the furthering of our beloved specialty in the name of providing the very best in emergency patient care — I also appreciate the intangibles in the workplace: the laughs, the hugs, the cries, the potlucks, the sports talk … as well as the non-hospital-based aspects of emergency medicine such as patient advocacy, social activism and community outreach. The former — the academic and scientific aspects — can be found almost anywhere; it’s the latter — the personal component — that made the job search a lot less straight forward.

Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled and unrealistic; I mean, I did my emergency medicine training in a very diverse city with an intentionally diverse residency-training program. In fact, the program prided itself on its diversity … so much so that there was (and continues to be) a committee that is dedicated to this very mission, year-in and year-out. I entered the academic emergency medicine job market full of enthusiasm, hoping to find a place where I’d fit right in; a place where there were plenty of other physicians that looked like me and shared some of my passion for things such as community engagement, addressing socioeconomic determinants of health outcomes, minority recruitment and retention, etc. Instead, I mostly found places where I would be ‘the one,’ ‘the only,’ ‘the first;’ places where “diversifying the physician workforce” as a concept was there, but had yet to become a reality. While the job offers were plentiful, the “personal component” of my search seemed few and far between.

It wasn’t long before I realized that what I initially sought out, though it certainly exists, was not as common as I had thought for a multitude of reasons that are beyond the scope of this brief article. I was searching for an ideal position: a faculty group that was diverse by every measure, fun, inviting and democratic, serving an appreciative patient population that mirrored this diversity. All of that, plus a competitive salary in a desirable city!

Very seldom (if ever) do we get to have it all. Sometimes, we have to create the ideal situation. The job search, for me, became a “self-search” of sorts. While slightly different than what I had initially envisioned my first job being, I have found a place that supports my community and social endeavors while also fostering my academic career development. My excitement and tenacity have been renewed.

As we know, it is well-documented in the literature that minority students and trainees tend to seek out and form bonds with faculty or other trainees with similar backgrounds and experiences. In being amongst a very small number of underrepresented minority faculty in the department which I ultimately chose to grow roots, it is my hope that my presence will not only somehow translate into the betterment of already-superb patient care, but that I can also serve as a familiar face, mentor and inspiration for all levels of students for generations to come. After all, we have to start somewhere, right?