Nurturing Diversity in Medicine and Bridging the Pathology Gap

In a family of doctors, 14-year-old Winston Pereira has a jumpstart on his future in medicine. But as he ponders his career path, the Pelham Memorial High School freshman faces many unanswered questions.

Left to Right: Maria Frias, Drs. Denise Dailey, Kathleen Whitney and Tiffany Hebert
Left to Right: Maria Frias, Drs. Denise Dailey, Kathleen Whitney and Tiffany Hebert

At the second annual Black Men in White Coats Youth Summit, held at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown on Saturday, November 4, Winston immersed himself in a day-long program that transcended conventional career guidance.

The event, hosted by White Plains Hospital, brought together middle and high school students, parents, educators, clinicians, and medical students for inspiration, networking, mentorship, and hands-on demonstrations.

Members of the pathology department, including Kathleen Whitney, MD, the director of surgical pathology, Denise Dailey, MD, PGY-4 and chief pathology resident, and pathology assistant Maria Frias, joined the ranks of physicians, staff, and medical students from Montefiore Einstein and healthcare organizations across New York. Their collective mission is to address the absence of Black and minority professionals in the medical field and broaden the talent pipeline in healthcare. 

For Winston, the day was a revelation. "I learned a lot about different fields in medicine," he said. "I also learned that for all of them, you need to get good grades and spend a lot of time working hard." His guide through this exploration was none other than his mother, Dr. Tiffany Hébert, the director of the pathology residency program at Montefiore and an assistant professor of pathology at Einstein.

Winston Periera
Winston Periera

The statistics reveal a stark reality – only 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American - roughly 2.8% being male - according to 2022 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. A UCLA study further underscores the slow progress, showing a 4% increase in the proportion of Black physicians in the US over the past 120 years.

A critical shortage of pathology laboratory staff at Montefiore and hospitals nationwide amplifies the urgency for diverse representation in the field. Accurate diagnoses, patient outcomes, and disease prevention hinge on addressing this gap. Raising awareness of the many opportunities within pathology is a win-win, not only a personal triumph but a step toward reshaping the future of the field.

Dr. Dailey, a graduate of Ross University in her native Dominica, emphasized the transformative power of mentorship to minority students. "Children want to become what they see; you can't imagine what you've never been exposed to," she said. Her commitment to bridging the gap took root during her fourth year of medical school when she founded Carib Elite, a non-profit program connecting foreign medical students with mentors in US residency programs.

At the summit, Dr. Dailey, alongside Dr. Whitney, Maria Frias, and Sun Min Cho from WPH, engaged high school students in a panel discussion on Anatomic Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. They also led the students through a case study diagnosing abdominal pain in a pediatric patient. Students received colorful rubber brains whenever they asked or answered questions during the sessions and were able to see and ask questions about actual preserved organs during the hands-on gross organ demonstration session.

Beyond the traditional physician pathways, the team shed light on lesser-known career paths in pathology, ranging from laboratory directors, lab assistants, technicians, and technologists to physician assistants. Dr. Whitney, drawing from her journey sparked by an interest in forensics as a college student, underscored the importance of setting goals and early exposure in the laboratories.

From L to R: Dr. Charles Esenwa (Neurology), Dr. Tiffany Hebert (Pathology), Andrew Peck (MS 2), Dr. Lynne Holden (Emergency Medicine and Diversity Enhancement), Daniel Ssozi (MD/PhD student), Jehron Pura Bryant (MS 3), Dr. Robert Plummer (Surgery).
From L to R: Dr. Charles Esenwa (Neurology), Dr. Tiffany Hebert (Pathology), Andrew Peck (MS 2), Dr. Lynne Holden (Emergency Medicine and Diversity Enhancement), Daniel Ssozi (MD/PhD student), Jehron Pura Bryant (MS 3), Dr. Robert Plummer (Surgery).

"We want students to think early about what they need to do to have a career in medicine – have early clinical and research exposures, find mentors, and set and focus on specific goals," she said. Dr. Whitney emphasized that stepping into a hospital laboratory is the best way to explore the range of opportunities, even highlighting positions like lab assistant that require only a high school diploma, providing a crucial entry point into the hospital environment.

The summit was more than just a transformative experience for students. It became a valuable learning and networking opportunity for parents and family members. Dr. Hébert found resources ranging from college financing to parenting advice through a medical career. "I also met physicians and other Black and underrepresented physicians who could be good mentors for my son," she said.

Lynne Holden, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Montefiore and senior associate dean for diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) at Einstein, played a pivotal role in organizing Montefiore's participation in the summit.

“Engaging immersion events such as the White Coats for Black Men Summit serve as an important way to inspire and educate the next generation of health professionals,” she said. As the co-founder and president emeritus of Mentoring in Medicine, Dr. Holden has dedicated her life’s work to unlock potential and instill an interest in medicine in minority students, overcoming socio-economic barriers.

For those seeking further mentorship opportunities, the Black Men in White Coats chapter at the medical school and Mentoring in Medicine offer valuable resources and connections, opening doors to a future where diversity in medicine is not just a goal but a reality.