Tiana Ford as a child sitting in her mother's lap at her medical school graduation.

The path to equity: A Black woman’s journey in medicine


In 2007, my mother, Dr. Beneranda Sophia Ford-Glanton, became the first Black woman to graduate from her residency program. That same year, she cared for a Black patient who had never encountered a Black doctor. For the first time in that patient’s life, they were able to connect with someone who looked like them and shared similar life experiences. Patients deserve this quality of care, and they deserve doctors who reflect their communities. However, this need becomes increasingly difficult to meet as the medical field remains extremely monolithic.

Black and Latino physicians are rare. My mother went from being one of three Black women in her medical school class to the only Black woman and Latina in her residency program. Being isolated as the sole woman of color, her loneliness only added to the difficulty of her experience. She did not get to scrub in for surgeries as often as her white, male counterparts; she did not receive the best cases; and her supervisors frequently implied that she was not deserving of her role or as smart as her colleagues. She was led to believe her selection for the position was as a “diversity pick.” Residency was a solitary experience as she was left to navigate the medical labyrinth alone. As a trailblazer, there were not many people that came before her who could serve as guides. Most Black and Latino/a/x physicians at the time were overwhelmed by mentorship requests, and truthfully had no time to mentor students while trying to establish themselves in an already predominantly white field. In order to move up the chain in medicine, especially in her field of urology, you need people ahead of you to support you. Because medicine is so overwhelmingly white, there was no one who looked like her that could advocate for her.

Things did not change once she became a physician. She loved administering the highest quality of care possible for her patients, but barriers remained. Ultimately, she chose to remove herself and stop practicing full time. The decision to step away from clinical medicine was not solely a personal one; it reflected the systemic challenges embedded in the profession. The lack of consequences for exclusionary behavior exemplified the need for a fundamental shift in the culture of medicine. The pathways to health science careers for Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are already few and far between. Black residents are disproportionately dismissed from their residency programs, and the recent SCOTUS affirmative action ruling only adds to the challenges. It is a great disservice to communities of color because the numbers are already so small, and the need is so great.

People deserve to feel seen and heard by their doctors. The hallmark of any physician is to provide empathetic, high-quality, and culturally relevant care, but this becomes challenging because of the lack of diverse practitioners in the field. Throughout history, Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x people have been underrepresented in medicine, a staggering fact that has impacted the health care outcomes of each of these respective groups.

We must do more to support these communities by creating more pathways to health science careers. Real consequences and financial support for equity, inclusion, and anti-racism efforts are imperative. Only through proactive and comprehensive changes in medical education and practice can the health science system create a level playing field, where a diverse set of voices are not only heard, but also empowered to thrive. The journey toward a more inclusive and equitable medical profession is a collective endeavor, and my mother’s story beckons for a transformative shift in the very fabric of medicine.