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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A look at The National Society of Black Women in Medicine

Leaders commented on their journey in BWM and the empowerment it brought them in exploring the medical field
Image courtesy of BWM’s Instagram

Created in 2020, The National Society of Black Women in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts is an organization that uplifts and mentors minority women in their education when pursuing healthcare fields.

They hold events, meetings and symposiums to help members explore their opportunities and network with other health professionals. Additionally, they have a mentorship program where members are paired with one another and explore different paths within the medical field.

Their mission states that “through volunteer, unity, mentorship and research, we intend to empower our future physicians and health professionals” and “seek to ensure they are trailblazers in the medical field.” Their members uphold these values in their dedication to the organization and eagerness to encourage other students to join and explore their passions.

Senior biology major Breanna Joseph is on the pre-medical track and is the director of community engagement for BWM.

Joseph joked that she began watching “Grey’s Anatomy” when she was 12-years-old and it inspired her to pursue medicine. She discussed her interest in biology and technology classes and wanted to incorporate these interests into a field where she could help people, as she liked the humanities aspects of these topics as well.

When she was younger, Joseph had positive experiences at Boston Children’s Hospital and received “amazing care”; she learned at this time that BCH was the hospital where she wants to work. Additionally, she touched on how being in a caretaker role for her brother with autism, as well as seeing him be cared for, inspired her decision to pursue medicine.

When joining BWM and taking her role on the executive board, she said she is “really big on not just finding community for myself as a Black girl in college, but also creating a community for other Black folks that come after me.”

Joseph has numerous interests in the medical field and is open to different specialties, including gastroenterology, pediatrics and primary care.

“Being such a small minority on campus, I think it is a great way to create community and this needs to exist,” said Joseph. “Especially in a field where I just don’t think the representation is where it should be,” she added.

Joseph explained that she wants to not only recruit students, but also make sure to retain them to make sure that they feel supported enough to continue. “We don’t want socioeconomic factors or social pressures to be the reason why Black women are forced out of medicine or dissuaded from pursuing that passion.”

Joseph described the organization as a “sisterhood” of people who are pursuing similar paths but also motivating each other within their own fields. “I think it’s a great way to get motivated because you’re seeing other people succeed, or try and succeed, and it just kind of ignites a fire within yourself,” she added.

“I think it has given me a place to really feel comfortable and to really be myself because what you hear a lot on these campuses when it comes to Black and Brown students is the prevalence of code switching.” She explained this prevalence as “changing your mannerisms” and said that it is “really sad in an academic space.”

Joseph commented on the mentorship program and said, “I just love the idea of being able to impart my wisdom and making sure that somebody has a smoother ride than I did,” and that she likes to be a part of someone’s growth story.

She finished with a word of advice: “For anyone reading this or any person really with a marginalized identity… [my advice is] to fight through the imposter syndrome to really find your voice and to really rest in the fact that you’ve earned a spot at this institution. And you have so much to offer, not just the school, but to society at large.”

She speaks to other students and says that with the combination of experiences and education here, “You can have some hope that you’re going to be onto big things, making great things.”

Charlotte Gilson, junior sociology major and vice president of BWM, is interested in pediatrics and the intersection of managing a pediatric hospital and child welfare.

She explained that there are many doctors in her family, including her mother. She continued and shared that seven of her mother’s 10 siblings are doctors, as well as her mother’s parents, so she grew up surrounded by Black doctors. “I caught the medical bugs from them,” she said.

Gilson added, “I never kind of thought that my race would inhibit me from becoming a doctor or achieving my dreams, because I was so fortunate to have all the role models.” She continued, “I grew up in primarily White schools and obviously, higher education is primarily White. So when I came to UMass, I really wanted to look for a Black organization to talk to.” Gilson first became aware of the organization her freshman year at the Activities Expo.

When asked about how BWM is empowering to her and others, Gilson said, “The smallest demographic of physicians in the US are Black women. A lot of that has to do with systemic issues relating to the political economy and various factors that prevent Black women, Black people in general, especially from entering the field and being successful in the field.”

She added that BWM “really helped promote the prevalence of Black women in the medical field and provide resources for the pre-med process.” Like Joseph, Gilson commented on the prevalence of imposter syndrome within pre-medical students and how having this organization is important in combating the phenomenon.

Gilson acknowledged that she is a “major outlier” having grown up around and being empowered by so many Black role models in the medical field.

She described wanting to have kids in the future and continuing in a mentorship role and said that BWM, “Inspires me because I want to be able to serve as a role model and also be able to been taking the initiative of making sure that up-and-coming aspiring doctors also have role models and have access to resources to get into medical school.”

After college, Gilson hopes to take what she has gained through BWM into her career. She said, “Even after I leave UMass and leave the club, I’m not going to leave the initiative. And I’m still going to take it into my work and healthcare no matter what I do, so it’s really teaching me a lot of how important it is to provide that support.”

Joseph and Gilson both commented on the cutthroat nature of being a pre-medical student and talked about the how refreshing the community at BWM is. Gilson said, “So instead of trying to put down each other, we’re gonna put each other up and get them together. I really love that because it shows a whole other side of the pre-med community and it’s just so supportive and uplifting and helpful,” she added.

BWM is holding a Black Women’s Empowerment Week from March 5-9, with a Women’s Symposium happening on March 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Campus Center Marriott in the Amherst Room to conclude the week. Some events include a painting night, information sessions and an Executive Board Instagram takeover.

The week will provide assistance with resumes, interview support, finding internships and accessing mental health resources. Additionally, there will be bonding and networking opportunities including food, music and games.

Gilson finished by saying that BWM enjoys collaborating with other Black organizations on campus, as well as other marginalized groups. One organization they often partner with is the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS).  She spoke to the misconceptions that organizations can seem exclusive, but that she does not want any clubs to seem this way and would rather these organizations work together to collaborate and join these affinity spaces.

The National Society of Black Women in Medicine can be found on Instagram @nsbwm.amherst.

Abby Joyce can be reached at [email protected].

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