OWL addresses racism in ophthalmology
Racism is a public health problem, and diversity alone is not a cure, Renee Bovelle, MD, said in a webinar hosted by Ophthalmic World Leaders.
In a panel discussion convened to confront issues of racism in ophthalmology, Bovelle and two other Black ophthalmologists, Frank Bowden, MD, and Connie Okeke, MD, agreed that access is key, not only for opening educational opportunities but also for advancing career goals.
“When you have someone who looks like you, someone you can emulate, it definitely can have major impact on where you think that you can go,” Okeke, a glaucoma specialist at Virginia Eye Consultants, said. “Part of the problem of why there’s not enough people of color in ophthalmology has also to do with just not having access to the field early and not having as many people who look like them.”
Bovelle, an OWL board member who moderated the webinar, said that her acceptance as the third Black resident at Yale University in 1993 demonstrated the need for “a lot of improvement in terms of making ophthalmology more accessible,” as well as a need for mentorship and guidance. Less than 6% of ophthalmologists are Black, according to the panelists.
For these three physicians who do have established practices and clientele, there remains a need to be “on” every day, to be themselves a good example.
“One of the things our colleagues may not appreciate [is] the fact that we have to endure this on a day-in/day-out basis. ... Every time you walk into a consultation with a new patient and you get the ‘look’ or you get the body language that indicates that there’s skepticism, it’s like ‘show time.’ You have to turn it on. You have to turn it up. You have to win that patient. ... That cumulative stress, day in/day out, you leave the office exhausted,” Bowden, founder of Bowden Eye & Associates, said.
But the job can also be gratifying.
“I often have my African-American patients tell me how proud they are of me and how comfortable they feel having a person of color,” Bovelle said. “And that helps balance things out a little bit.”