Baylor’s Black Men in White Coats strives to connect with young men

Alexis Batiste, a third-year medical student interested in orthopedic surgery, read a paper published in 2014 with an alarming statistic: fewer Black men applied to medical school that year than in 1978.

Another study in 2021 by UCLA revealed a second sobering percentage to Batiste. The number of physicians who identified as Black men in 2017 was the same as in the 1940s – less than 2.6 percent of the overall number of American doctors. The number of Black doctors has increased by only 4% over the past 120 years, according to the study.

As a new medical student in 2020, Batiste said he noticed a push at Baylor College of Medicine to recruit more Black students that year.

“They had a huge emphasis on trying to recruit a more diverse class,” Batiste remembered. “With our class, it was 10 African American individuals in total, and five Black men in my class. In the next class, there were seven Black men. And it was just going higher and higher.”

Batiste and several of his friends who are Black men did not want the momentum of strong, diverse recruitment to go to waste. They wanted to build a group for each other, but didn’t want it to be focused on solely academics.

The Baylor College of Medicine chapter of Black Men in White Coats in Feb. 2023.

In 2021, 11 students started the Baylor chapter of Black Men in White Coats, a national organization that seeks to increase the number of Black men in the field of medicine by exposure, inspiration and mentoring. The national organization was started in 2013 following the release of a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges that stated the number of Black male medical school applicants was decreasing.

“These numbers are very alarming, and honestly magnify the lack and the disparity that we have here in medicine,” Batiste said.

Flash-forward to AY 2022-’23, and the group has grown to 18 students, including Ronald Goldsberry, a second-year student from Michigan who runs the group’s public relations efforts, and Benjamin Nwokoye, a second-year student from Arlington, who is secretary.

Recently, the group partnered with Mission Transformation, a Houston nonprofit organization that works with leaders in the community to motivate and mentor young men of color. In the fall, the Baylor chapter spent a full day with pre-teen and teenage boys to introduce them to what it’s like to go to medical school, Goldsberry said.

“At the end of the experience, we wanted to follow up with the kids, so we paired up with them and gave everybody a mentor,” Goldsberry said. “Now we keep in touch at least once a month with all these kids who are middle school to high school-age.”

Goldsberry’s mentee will enter high school next year, and he is interested in pursuing science in higher education. The Baylor student sees their friendship as an opportunity to “help him out along the way because it starts early.”

Two Baylor faculty members serve as advisers to the group: Dr. Edgardo Ordonez, associate professor of emergency medicine and internal medicine, and Dr. Chris Glover, professor of pediatrics – anesthesiology.

The national organization has been an important initiative in improving the representation gap in medicine, especially amongst Black men, Ordonez said. And working with the young leaders involved with the Baylor chapter has been a great privilege, he added.

“Locally, these students hit the ground running and quickly built the infrastructure and developed local partnerships to mentor and inspire young students to pursue a career in medicine,” Ordonez said. “I’m highly impressed with their impact at Baylor and the community.”

This semester, the group plans to use four measurable pillars as they make mentor-mentee relationships: healthcare field, higher education, professional development and personal growth. Batiste said the longitudinal idea will lead to lifelong relationships with the young men they mentor.

“At the end, we want to see the impact we had directly with mentees,” he said.

The mentorship aspect is important because few Black boys see Black male doctors, Goldsberry said. His father has a Ph.D. in science, which exposed him to the benefits of a successful higher educational experience.

“I never was lacking that kind of role model that I think a lot of kids are missing but knowing that motivates me to give that motivation to people who don’t have it,” Goldsberry said. “That exposure – when you see that, you internalize that (a career in medicine) is possible.”

By Julie Garcia