Dr. Cedric Bright discusses his path towards medicine and the current medical landscape

One of the focuses of my blog is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and my most central principle is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. While we tend to think of clinical medicine as strictly a ‘Healthcare Profession’, its foundations are rooted in the Basic Sciences. Medical Doctors/Physicians are likewise scientists who specialize in patient care and healing sicknesses.

I recently met Dr. Cedric Bright in person through a mutual acquaintance at a family gathering. I’d heard of him through conversation, and I think I’d previously seen him before, as he was among the many physicians on Twitter using the ‘hashtag’ ‘#BlackMenInMedicine’. It turns out that Dr. Bright, the Associate Dean of Admissions at the East Carolina University School of Medicine , coincidentally knew Dr. Qiunn Capers, IV, whom I first saw using the hashtag.

At the gathering, Dr. Bright eagerly answered the questions of numerous medical school hopefuls who were in attendance. As they asked him questions, he in turn asked them questions about their preparation, their academic performance, standardized test scores, experiences in clinics and overall ambitions. At the recommendation of the host of the gathering, I listened in on Dr. Bright’s discussions and was fascinated by what he had to say.

With my blog having both education and a science focuses, and with me also knowing many medical school hopefuls, I seized the opportunity to ask Dr. Bright for an interview and he agreed. In the following interview with Dr. Cedric Bright, we discuss his background, his path into medical school and his career, and finally the current landscape of medical education – specifically what medical schools are looking for in prospects. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you, Dr. Bright. Medical school has long been the destination for many undergraduates, and many people will love to hear what you have to say about what the journey towards practicing medicine entails. With that, can you talk briefly about yourself? Where are you from? What got you interested in medicine?

Cedric Bright: I’m originally from Winston-Salem, NC. I grew up there and attended a private boarding school. My parents were both public school teachers and believed in trying to give me and my brother every advantage we could have to be the best that we could be. They were of the ilk where, ‘This generation needs to do better than the last generation,’ and my parents made sacrifices for us so that we could go to private boarding schools.

From there I was accepted to Brown University for my undergraduate studies. I returned to attend medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). I did my ‘Residency’ back at Brown. I stayed on as faculty there for four years, and I wrote a paper which was published in the Journal of the National Medical Association, looking at perceived barriers in medical education by race and gender. That led to me being recruited to Duke University and the Durham VA-Medical Center. I spent 13 years there before I was recruited to come back to Carolina (UNC). I spent eight years at Carolina, and just left three weeks ago to come here to East Carolina.

AD: So, let’s go back to the beginning of your journey. Your parents – were they science teachers or were they teaching other subjects?

CB: They were general public school teachers. My father taught math and science in middle school, and my mother taught second grade in elementary school.

AD: What inspired you to become a medical doctor? Did you have a mentor in medicine? Also, are you the first medical doctor in your family?

CB: I’ll tell you that I’m not the first doctor in my family, but I also never met the person who was. He is a distant cousin on my grandmother’s side. I don’t recall hearing stories of him, though I’ve seen pictures. In terms of myself, my father being an educator brought home books for me and my brother to read. It was a series describing what doctors, nurses, engineers, fireman, police, etc., “do”. After reading those books, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, and my brother wanted to be an engineer. Fast forward 20 years, he’s become an engineer. Fast forward 25 years, I’ve become a doctor.

AD: During your journey, were there any challenges in your undergraduate studies or throughout medical school itself? Or were you a ‘straight A’ student where the road was all set for you?

CB: I was nowhere near a straight A student, but I was a hard worker. My parents put me in some courses that taught me how to study. In doing so, they helped me with my concentration. I probably would’ve been diagnosed as “Attention Deficit Disorder” (ADHD). I still have lot of ADHD tendencies now in my old life.

I learned techniques on how to manage my thoughts, my ability to focus, and even with that I had some academic difficulties. I learned how to use the system – how to ask for help – how to not be afraid to admit that I didn’t know something. I learned how to visit teachers during their office hours, and how to spend time after class working on things. I learned how to ask my colleagues who were willing to help – all those types of things.

I did reasonably well in high school. I particularly did well in Chemistry; my teacher was my football coach. I was quite fond of him and he helped me understand Chemistry very well, such that I did very well in it in college.

I did quite well my freshman year in college. Subsequently, I had the ‘sophomore slump’. I pledged a fraternity the spring semester of my freshman year, and I came back and ‘acted’ that fraternity the first semester of my sophomore year, and my grades summarily crashed. At that same point in time, I decided that I didn’t like Biology anymore and I didn’t want to do Chemistry. I decided that there must be something else that I could major in. Low and behold I’d taken some courses in Film because I’d been interested in it, and so I decided that I’d major in it.

AD: Oh, interesting.

CB: My Pre-Med Advisor said, ‘You don’t have to major in a science to go to medical school,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to take you at your word on that!’ So, I ended up majoring in Film (Semiotics), and what it taught me was how to understand non-verbal communication, understanding how the body moves and when a person’s body is or isn’t reflective of their verbal statements. Being able to interpret my patients better, I think that helped me in the long-term.

AD: Interesting.

CB: So, I pulled my grades up my next two years after my sophomore year, and I think that’s why I got into medical school. My grade point average (GPA) wasn’t great – it was less than a 3.0 and I’ll leave it at that. I had to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) three times to get a score that would at least get me noticed. I think the final score that I got was a 27. I only applied to two medical schools and I got into the UNC, which was crazy.

After getting in, I was advised to do a summer program and I’m grateful that I was. It surrounded me with like-minded individuals. The first thing I tell young people today is to make sure you do some type of summer program to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals. They become your colleagues of the future.

AD: Interesting.

CB: The program also helped me to understand the difference between undergraduate-level and graduate-level studying. Had I not done the program, I’m sure that I would’ve had more academic difficulty during my first year.

AD: So, you’re referring to the complexity of thought and….

CB: And the amount of time you must put into it. For instance, I was used to studying maybe an hour or two a day, and then ‘cramming’ towards the end and still being able to get a good grade. You can’t do that in medical school. In medical school you must put in four to five hours every day. You must put in six to eight hours on the weekend – it’s a ‘grind’ and you must get used to that grind. You have to become disciplined and not fall prey to the ‘Jedi-Mind Tricks’ that your classmates would throw on you by saying that they spent the whole weekend hiking the Appalachians. They might have hiked a mile, but they spent the rest of the time studying. They want you to think they didn’t. So learn not to fall for the Jedi-Mind Tricks. Everyone is working hard in medical school.

AD: Jedi-Mind Tricks (laughing). What was your ‘specialty’?

CB: My specialty ended up being ‘Internal Medicine’, but that’s another story.

AD: Okay.

CB: Let me finish this point. I prayed before I got into medical school. I said, ‘Lord, don’t let get into medical school if I’m not going to graduate!’ So, when I got in, that took a load off me because I knew that I’d prayed and that he’d answered my prayers and I knew that I would graduate. The question then became how. I’d done the summer program, but my first semester of medical school, seemingly on every test I was one to two points above passing and I wasn’t ‘killing’ it by any means.

I was the last man on the totem pole probably every time and on every test. At the end of my first semester, I passed three of my courses, but I failed one by less than a half a point. So, I ended up having to remediate that course during the summer, but after coming back from the Christmas break, I realized that I couldn’t do the same work that I’d been doing and working the same way. I had to change my study habits.

For the most part, I’d studied with one of my frat brothers. It worked well, but it didn’t work well enough. So I said let me branch out and see if I can study with some other people. So I started studying with some other people who didn’t look like me and I started finding ways in which they studied that reminded me of the study programs my father had put me in back in the day. I started re-utilizing those study techniques and suddenly, I began to thrive. I had to make an adjustment and go back to a study technique that really helped me out when I was younger, and it turned out to be the elixir that I needed in medical school.

From that point on in my second year, I moved into a house with six to seven other medical students. Each night we’d study until about 10 to 10:30 at night and we’d come out to the common area of this house and have this massive ‘Quiz Bowl’. The whole point of the Quiz Bowl was for me to take the most esoteric fact that I knew and try to stump them, and for them to take the most esoteric fact that they knew and try to stump me.

Now here’s the key Dr. Dunbar. If I stumped them, I had to teach them. And if they stumped me, they had to teach me. The effect of that was that by the time we got to the exam, we’d asked so many questions of each other from so many different perspectives that there weren’t too many questions on the exam that we hadn’t already discussed. So like a ‘rising tide’, we all did very well. What that speaks to is how you work in medical school to get the ‘volume’. It’s not aptitude that impedes people’s progress in medical school, it’s dealing with the volume.

It’s kind of like trying to eat an elephant. If you’ve got one person trying to eat an elephant, it takes a long time to do it. But if you’ve got seven to eight people trying to eat the elephant with everyone describing what they’re biting and how it tastes, the texture of it, you get to know the whole elephant, but you just ate a part of it. Does that make sense to you, sir?

AD: Yes.

CB: So that’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned about approaching large volumes of work. If you approached it first being responsible for taking care of your own individual preparation and coming together and working with other individuals who have put in their own individual preparation, you can work very effectively as a group. But it first starts with individual preparation.

AD: Okay, so there’s a component there that requires individual preparation and then there’s a teamwork component there.

CB: That’s correct. The individual preparation gets you to 50%, but that team component gets you to 90%.

AD: That makes sense. When I first got to graduate school, I was used to working by myself, and I discovered that I couldn’t do that and get the grades that I needed. Just quickly, which fraternity did you pledge?

CB: I pledged Omega Psi Phi.

AD: In term of my next question, you discussed this at the gathering where we met, and it really resonated with me. When I was an undergraduate student at Johnson C. Smith University in the late-1990s, many of us pondered practicing medicine, but few of us thoroughly understood what it took to get into medical school. Aside from the academic credentials, what are some of the personal qualities aspiring medical students need to be successful and, in general, what are you all looking for? I remember you saying that you want them to have touched patients before.

CB: That’s true. We want to see that you’ve had a journey of learning about the didactics and the science component, yes, but also about the humanity – doing volunteer service for people less fortunate than yourself. This helps you to understand the social determinants and sometimes the behavioral determinants of health, and how they manifest themselves in our community.

We want you to have spent some time doing some type of hands on patient care, whether its learning how to take blood pressure, learning how to take vital signs in the doctor’s office, or being an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and helping to triage patients and get them to the emergency room. Or it could be just driving an ambulance to take people to their regular hospital visits, being a nurse, or being a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) doing the hands-on dirty work in the hospital. Lastly, it could be being a pharmacy tech spending time working in a pharmacy where people are coming in asking questions about their medications. And helping them understand the side effects, and reactions from other drugs and things of that nature or being a hospice volunteer to helping people with end of life issues.

These are the types of things we’re looking for hands-on wise. There are a lot of smart people in the world, but there’s a difference between being smart and having intelligence. We’re looking for more intelligent people than we are smart people. Smart people know how to answer questions. They can get a question right all the time, but they don’t know how to talk to people. They don’t know how to deal with the ‘human component’. Intelligence is knowing what you know and being able to apply it to the people in front of you at the right time, for the right person, for the right reasons.

AD: Now in that same vein, if I recall correctly, in terms of determining why students want to attend medical school, you’re not looking for canned, ‘cookie cutter’ answers. You want to hear some depth to their answers, right?

CB: Yes. The ‘depth’ comes in multiple ways. For example, when someone writes about their experiences, I don’t care so much about what they did, I want to know how it made them feel. I want them to be able to share with me if there was a significance that changed their view of death if they worked in a hospice; how they think the healthcare system works as the ‘donut hole’ as it goes to prescription drugs.

I want them to be able to share if they know the significance of how nurses are so overworked and have too many patients, such that a CNA becomes so very important; how to take care of people in the hospital, or how to take care of people in the clinic as a medical assistant. Why (what was your motivation)? What did you feel? What did you observe? What did you learn? That’s more important to me than what you did.

AD: So, this is my last question. The landscape of medical education and medical school, has it changed since you were a student yourself? We have a lot of technology now. People communicate differently. I’m sure the actual medical approaches have changed. Can you talk about how things have changed from then to now?

CB: I think when I was coming through, we didn’t have as many imaging tests and diagnostic procedures, so our touch to the patient became more important. Doing the appropriate physical exam was enough for you to come to a diagnosis. You didn’t have to have an X-ray. You didn’t have to have a ‘CT’, because if you did your exam right, you knew what your exam told you. Now we depend too much on technology to tell us what’s wrong with a person, and it doesn’t always equate to us finding the right answers on how to take care of people.

I also think that our technology and having to ‘keyboard’ so much on these electronic records takes us away from the human touch – the humanity of medicine which is the one-on-one conversation with our patients because we’re too busy ‘charting’. Our eyes don’t meet enough. Patients wait months to come see a doctor, not watch a doctor type. Seeing a doctor means we have eye-to-eye contact and we talk as two human beings intimately in one setting, and I think that’s becoming a lost art in medicine. Doctors are under time crunches to see more patients and to make the same amount of money, or to make more money.

AD: I think that rolls into my last two questions. I know that every student is different, but on average, what are the major learning points for the medical students when they come in, because I imagine that these are all very bright individuals. What are the main things they must learn? Is it what you described for yourself? Or is it something else?

CB: I think the main thing they need to learn is that it’s not their aptitude that’s going to determine their altitude, it’s their attitude. If they come in with the right attitude of wanting to learn, and sacrifice whatever it takes to learn, and not come in with the attitude of, ‘I’m not doing this or, I’m not doing that’. That just doesn’t work in medicine. They also must learn how to deal with failure. The thing about medicine as with all walks of life, Dr. Dunbar, is that we all fall down. There’s no shame in falling down and we shouldn’t fall apart the first time we fail.

But what we should do is learn from the mistakes that we’ve made. Learn from what has occurred, grow and move forward, and get back up. I like to say that there’s no shame in falling down. There is shame in laying there. And don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that their life is perfect. All that is, is a mask. We all fall down. We all have imperfections. We all fall short of the glory.

AD: My high school basketball coach used to tell us that exact same thing about attitude and altitude. My last question is going to be a little more global. Under the Obama Administration, we had the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and now that’s kind of been stripped down. In terms of the medical field itself, do we still have enough doctors? Is it still a thriving field?

CB: It’s very much a thriving field, and there will always be a need for doctors. I wholeheartedly believe in that. Artificial Intelligence will never be able to replace doctors, because they don’t have the touch. There’s more than enough need for physicians and, in many places, we’ve said there’s going to be a shortage of physicians in the future. That’s because we have areas where more physicians are passing away than physicians are being made.

The ‘Baby Boomers’ are probably a third of our physicians that we have in the workforce and they’re retiring at a rate of almost 1,000 every month. So, we’re going into a crisis of having more physicians retiring than those who are graduating. It’s a very interesting dichotomy and the American Association of Medical Colleges has been preparing different reports to show that. I was actually looking at one the other day.

The bottom line is that there’s a two-fold problem. We’re not making enough doctors and doctors are retiring, or we have enough doctors and there’s a maldistribution of doctors. Some would argue that theory. We have enough doctors, but all of our doctors want to practice where there are other doctors. But in actuality, we may need to redistribute them so that they practice in other areas that are rural and have less physicians in that area.

AD: Well, Dr. Bright that’s all the questions that I have. Thank you for your time and for sharing your path and knowledge and expertise about the medical field. A lot of people will benefit from this, and I look forward to doing it again.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

Dr. Quinn Capers IV discusses Implicit Bias and the #DropAndGiveMe20 campaign
Dr. Quinn Capers, IV discusses his path, #BlackMenInMedicine, and the present landscape of medical education
The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
How my HBCU led me to my STEM career
Researching your career revisited: Wisdom from a STEM professor at my HBCU

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Dr. Quinn Capers IV discusses Implicit Bias and the #DropAndGiveMe20 campaign

One of the focuses of my blog is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and my most central principle is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. While we tend to think of clinical medicine as strictly a ‘healthcare’ profession, its foundations are actually rooted in the ‘Basic Sciences’. In late 2017, I discovered Dr. Quinn Capers IV on Twitter one day by chance and started following him when he was tweeting about medical education at the Ohio State University. The hashtag he used in most of his tweets, #BlackMenInMedicine, further piqued my curiosity.

Last year I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Capers about his path and #BlackMenInMedicine. To see our 2018 interview go to Dr. Quinn Capers, IV discusses his path, #BlackMenInMedicine, and the present landscape of medical education. Dr. Capers recently granted me the opportunity to interview him a second time. In this follow up interview we discuss the concept of ‘Implicit Bias’, why it’s important, and the hashtag, ‘#DropAndGiveMe20’. The images in this interview were graciously shared by Dr. Capers himself. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

Anwar Dunbar: Hello, Dr. Capers and happy New Year. I want to thank you for the opportunity to interview you again. As the Dean of Admissions at the Ohio State University’s Medical School, your words are very, very valuable, especially for students aspiring to attend medical school. Before we get into ‘Implicit Bias’, the last time we spoke we spent quite a bit of time on the hashtag #BlackMenInMedicine. I now see you using a second hastag, #DropAndGiveMe20. Where did this hashtag and the whole push-ups piece come from? Did you start that?

Quinn Capers: The #DropAndGiveMe20 campaign is a great story. I’m a big fan of Ohio State University (OSU) Football. For years, while watching the games on television, I’ve had a fun routine of doing 10 push-ups every time they score a touchdown. I picked push-ups because they don’t require equipment or much physical space. They’re a good measure of overall upper body strength and they get your heart rate up. Mostly, I wanted to feel like I was exerting myself while the players were on the field exerting themselves. It’s just fun.

I’ve done it at sports bars and experienced both strange looks and strangers joining in! In November 2017, my wife recorded me doing this after an OSU touchdown and I thought it’d be cool to put it on Twitter to spark excitement among OSU football fans. I got a few responses, but the best one was from an interventional cardiologist at UCLA, Dr. William Suh (he is now a great Twitter friend or a “Tweep”), who said he could top that; and would do 20 for every UCLA Bruin touchdown. So he did 20, then when OSU scored another touchdown, I did 20.

AD: Ohio State Football. Yes, you all beat my Michigan Wolverines yet again (laughing).

QC: Well, we both had Twitter followers who are cardiologists and since heart doctors love promoting exercise, they joined the fun and challenged other cardiologists. I guess you could say that Dr. Suh and I are the “co-founders” if you must, but it has grown so fast and so many are responsible for spreading it that it really is a group effort now. It grew quickly to include other specialties, non-physicians, and even patients. In fact some of the most regular and awesome participants are patients; one a heart transplant survivor. They’re simply incredible.

It grew fast under the hashtag “#DropAndGiveMe20” and it’s now international with participants all over the world posting clips from places like the following: Sydney (Australia), London, and Lagos, Nigeria. We post daily and give each other positive feedback, hold each other accountable, and promote wellness and exercise. One of my main goals is to promote exercise as a way to improve heart health and to show that you don’t have to wait to go to a gym, since it can be hard to work a full day and plan to go to a gym afterwards. I’ll usually post clips of myself doing push-ups during my work day in the cardiac cath lab, in my office between meetings, or even in an auditorium after giving a lecture. Others have posted clips in unusual settings, like at dinner parties.

AD: Nice.

QC: I’ll tell you about two of my favorite clips. There’s a very famous female cardiologist who posted clips of herself doing push-ups at the airport terminal awaiting her flight. A prominent British cardiologist topped that by doing his on a moving walkway at London’s Heathrow Airport (not recommended, by the way)! We have great fun adding humorous wrinkles to it, like adding more and more people in a clip. I suppose I took it to new heights recently when I concluded a live simulcast lecture to a group of medical residents in Cameroon by asking them to do push-ups with me! They complied and we completed what might be the first, simultaneous, international push-up session!

I also take the opportunity to share my love and knowledge of jazz, hip-hop, and R & B/Funk music. My clips are always accompanied by a musical selection from my collection. I always credit and tag the musicians (if they have a Twitter handle), hoping to spark curiosity about certain hidden gems and send my Twitter followers “digging in the crates” to support the music. I was beyond thrilled when two different artists supplying the soundtrack to my push-ups responded to my tweet, the hip hop group “Digable Planets” and saxophone legend Branford Marsalis!

It’s great fun, and a very friendly Twitter community has grown around it. We now arrange to meet up at conventions (cardiology or otherwise) and do a “#DropAndGiveMe20!” Regarding the health benefits, doing push-ups can provide positive reinforcement in a relatively short period of time. Last November I could barely do 25 at one time, now I can max out at 43. Anyone is welcome to join the fun. If you can’t do 20, start with 1 or 2 push-ups! By the way, Dr. Dunbar, you and your readers are welcome to join anytime. Just record yourself, post it on Twitter with the hashtag “#DropAndGiveMe20” and tag your colleagues to get them involved.

AD: Okay, Dr. Capers. I haven’t done push-ups in a while, but now I may have to see if I can crank out 20 (laughing).

I noticed that after starting to follow you, ‘Implicit Bias’ became something you started addressing. How did this come about? What should the general public, and particularly those looking to get into medical school, understand about it?

QC: Implicit bias is a negative or positive attitude towards a person or group that occurs outside of our awareness, intention, or control. Although these biases occur outside of our awareness, they can influence behavior, possibly resulting in well-meaning people treating others differently based on race, gender, age, etc. I came across the concept as a cardiologist interested in racial healthcare disparities. Disparities have many causes, like social determinants of health, housing discrimination, unequal access to the best care, outright racism (explicit bias) of practitioners, structural bias in the healthcare system, etc.

I became intrigued with the notion of implicit or unconscious bias and its potential role in unequal treatment. Several studies have shown that a physician’s unconscious association of negative thoughts or words with a particular race or gender can be associated with therapeutic decisions that are harmful to persons in that group. For instance, one widely quoted paper had physicians take the computer-based implicit association test (IAT) that’s designed to uncover implicit associations or biases (free, available at implicit.harvard.edu) and then review case vignettes of a black or white male suffering from a heart attack.

Doctors were asked if they thought the symptoms of chest discomfort were indicative of a heart problem and if they’d treat the patient with a life-saving drug to terminate the heart attack. Physicians whose IAT showed “implicit white race preference” or an unconscious association of a white person’s face with good words (love, joy, warmth) and a black person’s face with bad words (danger, misery, trouble) were less likely to treat the black patient with the drug despite the black and white patients having identical presentations (1). It is important to note that this is not racism, which is a conscious, explicit bias. But implicit bias can potentially have life-and-death consequences in healthcare. While not all studies of implicit bias show an association with a doctor’s decision-making, enough do to cause alarm.

AD: That’s interesting.

QC: In addition to being a cardiologist I have the great privilege of serving as the Associate Dean for Admissions at the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Medicine, and I’m responsible for overseeing the recruitment, interview, and selection processes for our incoming medical students. When I reviewed a paper that showed that approximately 70% of a large group of physicians taking the IAT have implicit white race preference (2), I immediately pictured our medical school admissions committee and the fact that it is composed largely of physicians, and I had several questions: Do the physicians charged with the awesome responsibility of deciding who will become a doctor have implicit racial biases? If so, to what extent? If so, might it influence their decision-making and put black and Hispanic applicants at a disadvantage?

We set out to answer these questions and had our entire committee take the race IAT in 2012. Aggregate results revealed that a significant portion of the committee (between 50 and 70%) had an implicit white race preference. Next, Dr. Anthony Greenwald, implicit bias expert and one of the inventors of the IAT, led the committee in a discussion of implicit bias and how to reduce it. In the very next cycle we matriculated the most racially diverse class in the history of the college, suggesting that we are able to overcome implicit biases. This was the first paper to document the presence and extent of implicit racial bias in the medical school admissions process (3).

Our results indicated to us that we could have what we thought was a fair, objective process, on the surface, but that unconscious biases could put certain groups of candidates at a disadvantage. Since then we’ve had robust discussions about implicit bias and annual workshops on bias mitigation. I recently completed a training program leading to certification to moderate implicit bias workshops, and I do so twice a month. This goes beyond admissions and is open to the entire medical center. So far we have trained over 1,000 physicians, nurses, staff and students in bias mitigation strategies. It is a real passion and we are trying to make a difference.

AD: Thank you for that in depth explanation. Is there anything new at the Ohio State Medical School?

QC: We’re always tweaking the curriculum to help produce physicians who are ready to advance healthcare. We’re on the cusp of a new expansion with blueprints for a new hospital building and a health professions education building. And finally, we are continuing to leverage the fact that we have one of the most diverse medical student bodies in the country to enhance medical education and community outreach. In other words, we are continuing our forward progress.

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you and your readers. Best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!

AD: Thank you, Dr. Capers. I look forward to talking again and trying the push-up challenge.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you’ve enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

Dr. Quinn Capers, IV discusses his path, #BlackMenInMedicine, and the present landscape of medical education
The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
How my HBCU led me to my STEM career
Researching your career revisited: Wisdom from a STEM professor at my HBCU
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Dr. Quinn Capers, IV discusses his path, #BlackMenInMedicine, and the present landscape of medical education

One of the focuses of my blog is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and my most central principle is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. While we tend to think of clinical medicine as strictly a ‘Healthcare Profession’, its foundations are actually rooted in the ‘Basic Sciences’.

I discovered Dr. Quinn Capers, IV on Twitter one day by chance and started following him when he was tweeting about medical education at “The Ohio State University”. The ‘hashtag’ he used in most of his tweets ‘#BlackMenInMedicine’ further piqued my curiosity. After seeing more tweets and pictures of himself and his medical students, I reached out to Dr. Capers, the Dean of Admissions of the Ohio University’s Medical School, and he agreed to do the following interview. In our interview which coincided with Black History Month, Dr. Capers discussed his own educational path, the ‘hashtag’ #BlackMenInMedicine, and the current landscape of medical education for prospective students.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you Dr. Capers. I stumbled across one of your tweets one day which included the hashtag you often use; ‘#BlackMenInMedicine’. It caught my eye, in addition to the pipeline of black male doctors, you’re training there at Ohio State University. Even though you’re at The Ohio State University and I’m a University of Michigan alumnus, I thought interviewing you would be very beneficial to my audience as I’m a STEM practitioner and an advocate myself. Also even though we typically don’t think of medicine as a science, it very much is. With that, can you talk briefly about yourself? Where are you from? What got you interested in medicine?

Quinn Capers: Thank you for the honor of being interviewed Dr. Dunbar. Speaking of Black History Month, your last name reminds me of my high school in Dayton, Ohio. It’s named after our hometown hero; the first black poet who made a living with poetry, Paul Laurence Dunbar. I actually was born in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to Dayton when I was two or three years old which is where I grew up.

My answer to the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ was always, ‘a Doctor,’ even as a toddler. I didn’t have any doctors in my family and to be honest, we didn’t see doctors regularly. It was only on an ‘as needed’ basis – i.e. if we were injured or got really sick. I’m not really sure where the thought came from, but I now assume God planted that seed in my heart and mind, as I truly feel I was ‘called’ to this profession.

AD: What is your family’s background?

QC: Though I was born and raised in Ohio, my parents and both sets of grandparents are from Talladega, Alabama. My parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio before I was born, and as stated earlier, we relocated to Dayton before my third birthday. My father is a retired police officer and my mother is a retired postal worker. They divorced when I was very young, and my mother raised my sister and myself. My sister and I were the first in our family to attend college.

AD: Are you the first medical doctor in your family? If not, who inspired you?

QC: Yes I am, but I have a cousin who was studying Pre-Med at the Tuskegee Institute when I was in elementary school. We spent many hours talking about our shared dream of being physicians, and she was always very loving and encouraging. She is now a successful Physician Assistant in New York City.

AD: Describe your educational path.

QC: I attended public schools in Dayton, Ohio on the city’s west side – the ‘black’ side of town. I was always enamored with Black History and read voraciously about black heroes. Because of this, I knew I wanted to attend a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). I wanted to be taught by professors that were making Black History and I wanted to be in the same buildings, on the same campus, walking the same path as so many of the black intellectuals, artists, and revolutionaries that I had read about.

I chose Howard University in Washington, DC for my undergraduate studies – one of the best decisions I made in my life. For medical school I returned to my home state to attend the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Since I had attended predominantly black schools from K-12 and then Howard, medical school was my first time stepping foot into a Predominantly White Educational Institution (PWI). People have asked me if being at a PWI after having been cradled in majority black institutions my whole life led to my feeling out of place, or ‘inferior’, or if it gave me an ‘impostor syndrome’. No, it was actually just the opposite. Because I had seen so much black excellence, I felt invincible. After medical school, my residency and fellowship training in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases and interventional cardiology, took place at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

AD: Were there any particular challenges for you on the road to becoming a medical doctor?

QC: There weren’t any big challenges that stand out other than the need to prioritize studying, not over partying, and delaying gratification. Many of my friends were enjoying being finished with school, buying their first car, first house, and essentially living their lives while I was still in school and/or training. But since the opportunity to work towards an MD was a dream come true for me, none of it seemed like an inordinate challenge.

AD: What is your medical specialty?

QC: I am an ‘Interventional Cardiologist’, which is a heart specialist who specializes in opening blocked arteries and repairing heart abnormalities or defects with ‘catheter-based’ approaches. We repair the heart by accessing the circulation through an artery in the arm or leg, and then threading tubes and high-tech catheters, balloons, stents, and lasers to the heart.

AD: If I recall correctly, former Vice-President Dick Cheney had a series of those procedures. How did you ascend to become the Dean of Admissions at the Ohio State University’s Medical School?

QC: After spending the first eight years of my career in a private cardiology practice, I missed teaching and the academic environment, so I sought a position at my medical school alma mater. In private practice, nearly 100% of a physician’s time is spent taking care of patients. In what we call ‘academic medicine’, doctors work at medical schools and university teaching hospitals and have three responsibilities: caring for patients, teaching medical students and young doctors, and performing research. I thus left private practice to go into academic medicine.

After a short period of time I won several teaching awards from the students. When the Associate Dean of Admissions position opened, a colleague encouraged me to apply for it. My initial response was, ‘No that isn’t a part of my plan,’ which was to impact healthcare and improve people’s lives as the best interventional cardiologist and medical educator I could be. After giving it some thought, I realized that overseeing the admissions process at one of the country’s largest medical schools would allow me to have an even greater impact on healthcare than direct patient care. So, I decided to apply for the position and the rest is history. Now I perform both roles – Interventional Cardiologist and Associate Dean of Admissions, allocating approximately half of my time to each role.

AD: Let’s go back to #BlackMenInMedicine? Where did the hashtag come from?

QC: There are many black male physicians on Twitter. One day in 2017 some of us were having an online discussion about the landmark 2015 Association of American Medical Colleges publication entitled Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine, which details the current severe shortage of Black males entering the medical profession. According to this publication, there were fewer Black males applying to medical school in 2014 than in the late 1970s and the downward trend continues. This portends a severe lack of Black male physicians in the future.

We discussed strategies to combat this trend and collectively came up with the idea of an online campaign to flood social media with images of Black male physicians at work, at play, and simply living their lives. The primary goal is to be role models for and inspire young men (and anyone) to pursue medicine. Other goals include changing the narrative about Black males – i.e. that not all are ‘dangerous’, but that many are physicians saving lives and serving humanity. We also wanted to speak out about injustice in any form against any group. The name of the campaign is thus ‘#BlackMenInMedicine’.

AD: This is an optional question, but based upon today’s climate, have you gotten any pushback because it acknowledges just men and not women?

QC: Very little that has been openly stated, but we are sensitive to the fact that there are likely some who feel it’s divisive and not promoting unity. We think that it’s possible to promote Black men in medicine while supporting many other groups. Many of us also tweet using other hashtags that preceded #BlackMenInMedicine, such as #WomenInMedicine, #ILookLikeASurgeon (which promotes images of women in surgery), and others. We took this on because the low numbers of Black men in medicine, in academic medicine, in leadership roles, and amongst medical school applicants has reached a crisis. I should also point out that we, the original creators of this campaign, do not feel that use of the hashtag is proprietary. Anyone who wants to promote diversity in medicine, and particularly encourage Black men to pursue medicine, is welcome to use the hashtag. In fact, we encourage it.

AD: Are there particular programs at The Ohio State University for minority medical students?

QC: Yes. At the Ohio State University College of Medicine we believe that diversity drives excellence in healthcare, and we have several strategies to recruit and support diverse students and women. We’re proud to be leaders in educating women and underrepresented minority physicians. The last four entering classes have been predominantly women, and according to 2017-2018 AAMC statistics, OSU ranks sixth of nearly 150 medical schools for the number of enrolled black medical students. We also have a post baccalaureate program called ‘MEDPATH’ that is focused on increasing the number of underrepresented and/or disadvantaged students entering medical school.

AD: When I was an undergraduate at Johnson C. Smith University in the late-1990s, many of us pondered practicing medicine, but few of us understood what it took to get into medical school – something a particular professor reminded us of regularly. Aside from the necessary academic credentials, what are some of the personal qualities aspiring medical students need to be successful?

QC: Today, most medical schools judge applicants using the Association of American Medical College’s ‘holistic review’ framework, which recommends balancing the applicant’s: experiences, personal attributes, and academic metrics (MCAT and GPA) when making a decision about their candidacy. While the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and GPA are self-explanatory, it’s important that aspiring physicians understand the importance that past experiences and personal attributes will play when your application is being reviewed. You will need to have a track record of compassionate community service, healthcare-related experience (shadowing or volunteering/working in a healthcare setting), leadership, and often research.

Regarding personal attributes, medical schools desire students who are: compassionate, collegial, curious, and who are self-directed learners. While the exact attributes and experiences may vary by school, medical school hopefuls need to ensure that their experience portfolio is full and that their recommenders can speak to the attributes mentioned. Often the difference between the applicant who gets accepted to medical school and the one who doesn’t is not their MCAT score or GPA, but more so a matter of which applicant had the better strategy. Gaining acceptance to medical school is very competitive and applicants should have a well-thought out strategy. Some examples of strategic questions that students should think through include:

• Will I take a “gap year”?
• If I plan to take the MCAT in spring of my junior year, when should I take Physics?
• Which leisure-time activity will demonstrate the attributes that medical schools seek?
• Should I apply before my MCAT scores return?
• If my undergraduate grades are low, should I plan on graduate school? If so, what discipline? MPH or Masters Degree in a biomedical science?

I consider it part of my mission to provide the answers to these questions to students as early in the pipeline as possible. We do this via our OSU College of Medicine website (https://medicine.osu.edu/admissions/md/tips-and-advice/pages/index.aspx), by speaking to students via webinars (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_7B3qUjuJs), and via social media.

AD: Describe the landscape today in terms of getting into medical school versus when you were aspiring to study medicine yourself.

QC: I applied to medical school in 1986. At that time, the weight of academic metrics was definitely more than 1/3 of a candidate’s application. Community service was almost ‘optional’ at that time. Academic achievement is still very important, and always will be when evaluating medical school applicants. However, it is very unlikely that a student will be accepted to medical school today without a record of compassionate community service and healthcare-related experience. Also, many medical school curricula employ both group-based learning and independent learning, so schools look for evidence of collegiality and self-directed learning to provide evidence that a student will be successful.

AD: Okay, Dr. Capers, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you again for this opportunity to interview you, and also for providing the pictures to go along with this interview. I understand that your time is very valuable. Perhaps we can do follow up interviews at some point. Do you have any other parting comments or thoughts?

QC: No. Thank you again for giving me this opportunity, Dr. Dunbar. I’d be delighted to do this again, or even to make it a recurring feature. Good luck to all of your readers!

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed it, check out my 2019 interview with Dr. Capers.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. Please visit my  YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.