March 31, 2023—BRONX, NY—In February, Einstein’s administration, students, and faculty honored the contributions of Black Americans, celebrated Black excellence, and supported the local Bronx community during Black History Month.
Black Women and Health Disparities
The Einstein chapter of White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL) hosted a talk on February 21 on the health disparities that affect Black women. Speaker Alyson Myers, M.D., covered topics, including: how historical events have contributed to health disparities among Black women, health disparities that exist in the Black cis trans female communities, how intersectionality can worsen health disparities, and possible solutions. Dr. Myers is the inaugural associate chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the department of medicine at Einstein and Montefiore, associate professor of medicine at Einstein, and an endocrinologist at Montefiore Health System.
She provided some historical context—and continuity—for the discussion. For example, J. Marion Sims, a surgeon who is often referred to as the “Father of Gynecology,” experimented on enslaved Black women in the mid-1800s. The prominent physician, whose Central Park statue was removed in 2018, performed gynecologic procedures without anesthesia because he believed Black women did not feel pain, or had a higher tolerance than white women.
Dr. Myers noted that these dangerous beliefs persist in healthcare today. Research has shown that healthcare professionals often assume that a Black woman is exaggerating her pain, lying about it, or has some other social or unrelated reason causing her to suffer, rather than believing her reported pain is because of a medical issue.
She drew on real-world examples, including the story of tennis great Serena Williams. After giving birth in 2017, Ms. Williams experienced multiple blood clots. To prevent further pulmonary embolisms, she wore a full-body “catsuit,” which helped with her blood circulation. Despite requiring the suit for her health, the French Open revised its dress code, singling out the catsuit and ensuring that Ms. Williams could no longer compete wearing it.
On the topic of intersectionality, Dr. Myers explained how mainstream white feminism doesn’t include the racism, sexism, or homo/transphobia that Black women face. She closed her talk by stressing the importance of standing up for others in the presence of racism and mistreatment, protecting Black women in healthcare, and using anti-racist tools and language in clinical settings.
Marie M. Daly, Ph.D., Memorial Lecture
For the ninth year, Einstein honored the legacy of Marie M. Daly, the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. degree in chemistry in the United States. Dr. Daly was a member of Einstein’s faculty and made important contributions on the effects of diet on the vascular system. She also championed greater representation of Black scientists in medicine and science.
The memorial lecture, hosted by the graduate division and the Einstein Minority Scientist Association, was also held on February 21 and featured Selma Masri, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological chemistry at the University of California, Irvine. Her lab focuses on understanding the relationship between the disruption of circadian rhythms and cancer development and progression.
Dr. Masri said she didn’t have much exposure to science and research as a middle- and high-school student, but she always had a deep interest in the topic.
Her first real experience in the field came when she took a job in a lab during her undergraduate years at Pomona College. While working as a dishwasher, she listened to the conversations going on in the lab and began asking questions. The principal investigator noted her interest and took her under his wing. She ended up doing her own research project and completing her senior thesis dissertation in his lab, and later co-authored a paper in nucleic acids research.
Dr. Masri went on to get her Ph.D. at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope in Duarte, California, where she studied breast cancer biology, and she started her own lab in 2017, focusing on how circadian rhythms are implicated in cancer initiation and progression.
She repeatedly stressed the importance of being inclusive and involving people who show an interest in the sciences. “We all come from very different walks of life. My introduction to research was by washing dishes. We all start somewhere,” she said. She also emphasized the importance of identifying and connecting with mentors. “Seek out really good mentors. It’s imperative in our training period, and no one can do this on their own,” she said.
Black History Month Alumni Panel
Each year, the alumni office organizes a panel to connect current Einstein students with the College of Medicine’s active alumni network. This year’s panel included five alumni, ranging from the classes of 1973 to 2020. Lynne Holden, M.D., senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion and professor of emergency medicine at Einstein, introduced the group.
Einstein medical students moderated the discussion, with nearly 30 student attendees peppering the alums with a range of questions. The panelists explained how the medical profession has changed in the past 10 years, and how there are a great variety of career paths available to graduates. The alumni encouraged the students to network, through the alumni office and their own connections, to find out what options appealed to them. They also provided invaluable guidance on choosing and securing a residency in their desired fields.
The alumni participants were: Yves-Line Auguste-Swann, M.D. ‘05, M.P.H., internal medicine physician based in Brooklyn; Albert L. Brooks, M.D. ‘74, president of the Washington Township, California, Medical Group and chief medical officer for Washington Township Medical Foundation; Valiere Alcena, M.D. ’73, oncologist; Sebastian Placide, M.D. ’20, third-year internal medicine resident at Yale and chief resident of quality and patient safety; and Billy H. Ford, M.D. ‘87, anesthesiologist.
Additional events and initiatives were held throughout the month, including:
- Mental Health Forum. Einstein students spoke with the Rev. Alfonso Wyatt, Ed.D., advisory board chair of Mentoring in Medicine, about mental health concerns. The virtual event was hosted by the Einstein chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the oldest and largest student-run organization focused on the needs and concerns of Black medical students in the United States.
- Health Inequities Education. In honor of Heart Month, SNMA also developed an infographic highlighting health inequities and key facts about cardiovascular disease. The flyer was distributed to high school students in the Einstein Enrichment Program and others at the New Settlement Community Center and Mary Mitchell Family & Youth Center.
- Maternal Health Expo. Montefiore’s office of community affairs and Empire BlueCross BlueShield hosted a public event at La Central YMCA in the Bronx that included a panel of experts on maternal and infant health, including Montefiore Einstein physicians, patient educators, and traditional birth and postpartum doulas. They answered questions and shared information to help people learn about all of the resources available to pregnant women in the Bronx. Mocktails and nutritious snacks and a complimentary maternity photo shoot were also offered.