I listened intently and chimed in with my ideas in yet another meeting about underrepresentation in medicine (URIM) recruitment. We talked in depth about outreach descriptions and holistic review processes—and all of it was meaningful and good. And, like always, we wrapped up and left with our hopes, aspirations, and action items. I’d participated in so many of these meetings that they’d all become an amalgamation of similar points, plans, and vision statements. The population has this many people in it. The percentage of individuals of this demographic does not align with the percentage of doctors who share racial, ethnic, or cultural concordance with them. Though now we must be mindful about how we say it, we know the uncomfortable truth about the foundation of how medicine was built in the United States and for whom it was meant to serve. And here we are—still searching for novel ways to tackle a problem as old as the Declaration of Independence.
But then came the day I met you. Somewhere between those regularly scheduled recruitment meetings on what seemed like an ordinary day, I encountered you. And, in honesty, it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic which had become our new normal. It also proved to me that perhaps the panacea to building a more diverse workforce of medical professionals had been right in front of us all long.
Let me explain.
In December 2021, the omicron variant of COVID-19 was running rampant. For our family, that meant a disappointing cancellation of a New Year’s trip to Jamaica and a need for PCR tests in the frenzied midst of other people trying to do the same. My sons groaned in the back seat as we approached the long line of cars at the drive-through testing site. Horns honking, frustrations high, and people on edge. This would not be fun, but I settled in for the long wait, as every major news outlet reported how this was typical of many COVID-19 testing locations.
Finally, our car eked into the parking lot. That’s when I saw you. You were waving your arms to direct cars to the large number of testing and vaccination lanes while simultaneously approaching windows to answer queries, complete consent forms, and even perform nasal swabs. I was in awe of not only your efficiency but also the amicable nature in which you helped people. From the anxious, crying children to the frazzled (and sometimes entitled) adults, you diffused the tension with aplomb.
I felt happy when you were the one to approach our car window for the tests. You quickly shifted the energy from the second we rolled down the window. You called my grumpy sons “little brothers” and offered them fist bumps. Before they could complain further, they’d been swabbed with lightning speed. You looked at me and, even under your mask, I could see you smiling.
“Alright, mom! These fellas are all set. You’ll get a text message with the results to this number—.”
You looked down at your smart device and read off my number. After I confirmed it, you prepared to bid me adieu and return to the omicron parking lot mayhem.
I cleared my throat to get your attention. “Hey—um, do you mind me asking you a question?”
You paused and stepped closer.
“Who are you? And how can I get you to come work with me on my hospital team at Grady?”
You burst into nervous laughter, but I could tell that you were flattered. After sharing your name, you told me more.
“I’m a college student but I work here for extra money and experience because I like people.”
You went on. “I’ve thought about med school, but it’s a lot, you know? So, I don’t know. Hopefully I can do something working with patients, you know?” I saw you look around once more.
I shook my head and grew serious. “From what I see in this parking lot? You could run a hospital team right now.”
“Listen,” I said quickly through the window, “My name is Dr. Kimberly Manning and I’m a medical doctor on the faculty at Emory in the school of medicine. I’m just so impressed with you. I want you to reach out to me if you need support with your quest for medical school.”
You paused and then widened your eyes.
“I’m serious. I mean. . . just the little bit of time I’ve watched you in this parking lot has been amazing.” I sifted through my console for a scrap of paper and an ink pen. “Here is my contact information. Reach out if you need advice or help, okay?”
You took the paper, looked down at it, and gave me a hard nod. “Thank you, uh . . Dr. . . Manning. I’ll do that.” And with that, you waved and made a diagonal jog through the parking lot while stuffing the paper into your pocket.