‘I deeply want to be seen’

‘I deeply want to be seen’

I know what it’s like to be the last person in the room thought to be the physician.

I’m almost numb to the sting that comes with being among colleagues and hearing them acknowledged as “doctor” but me as “ma’am.”

I deeply want to be seen as a hardworking, smart, capable physician who earned her place.

This is my experience as a Black woman. A double minority.

Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher, but as I got older, I discovered I was good at science. The thought of becoming a doctor, however, quickly became a pipe dream when during a health care shadowing program, not a single person in the hospital looked like me. Not one Black doctor or nurse.

But still I pressed onward. My parents instilled in me the importance of finding my circle, so when I met other Black scientists in undergrad and medical school, we stuck together, surrounding each other with support and understanding.

I became a pediatric intensivist, meeting families on their worst day, when their child is brought to the intensive care unit. These are the sickest kids in the hospital.

Parents desperately want their kids to get better, and our fight becomes a team effort that I’m honored to be a part of every day. It fuels my passion and assures me I’m right where I’m meant to be.

That’s not to say I’ve always felt like I belonged. I’ve fought to be seen and heard as a physician the same way that patients who look like me are fighting every day. When you know what that battle is like on every level, you advocate for people differently.

There is nothing like the feeling of entering the room of a Black family. The moment they realize I’m the doctor is almost indescribable. There’s this millisecond in time where they pause, forget about the medical issue, and silently acknowledge the rarity of the moment. It warms my heart every time.

The history of distrust among Black and brown patients in the health care system runs deep. So much still needs to be done to close gaps and advance equity in health care. But it’s humbling to know I am part of that fight.

The last few years have been especially difficult for Black people.  In 2022 we’re still experiencing firsts and getting seats at tables that others have had for decades. Think about that.

But at least we’re at a point where people want to learn about those of us with different experiences and how history has shaped those experiences.

This Black History Month, and always, I ask you to acknowledge the inequities in our world. Listen to those around you when they’re brave enough to talk about what they’re going through – and take them seriously. You can read and educate yourself, but some of the most important work you can do is within. Spend time with yourself. We all have biases and we need to be honest with ourselves about that.

Maybe you don’t speak up when you see injustice. Maybe you have an unconscious bias that changes the way you feel about someone. You can’t make a difference until you recognize the ways in which you contribute to these issues. Start with yourself. If we all did that, imagine where this world would be.

Dr. Kay Jacobs is a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

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  1. Dr. Jacobs – Thank you for sharing your story.
    I felt every single word of this!

  2. Kepp going strong Dr. Jacobs! We see & appreciate you! #BlackGirlMagic

  3. I plan on sharing this with my daughter who is a 4th year surgical resident. She often shares with me these same sentiments as a black female physician. She has had some rough days these last few years in Georgia. The pandemic of course only made it even harder. I admire your determination and the fortitude it can take to do what you do every day. I am sure the love you have for your profession and those you are caring for gets you through as it does for my daughter. #BHM

  4. Thank you for sharing this. As a white doctor, I haven’t had these experiences. Your message inspires me to be more aware and active around my own and societal biases.

  5. Jackie Pratt-Redden February 2, 2022 at 1:47 pm · Reply

    The power of the truth is in your true words.

  6. Dr.Keith Williams February 2, 2022 at 9:12 pm · Reply

    I have been with Advocate for 30 years as a pediatrician and this is the first time hearing about you. I was smiling from ear to ear as I read your story!
    Really proud of you.
    You have probably taken care of some of my sickest kids that come your way.
    Do you rotate between the 2 hospitals?
    Perhaps one day our paths will cross.
    Keep up the good work and continue to encourage others who look like you to pursue such specialties!!!

  7. Fantastic read!! It’s like I was reading my own personal experience! Glad to know I’m not alone…. But also paving the way for others to have that “first” seat at the table!

  8. This touched me deep, being a black woman pursuing a degree in health care. I am that only person in the room. Its hard to get through it, and at times I feel I have to hold my head down a keep my truth to my self because its too hard for others to hear. Nevertheless I am going to become that Nurse that will be the voice for my people. That’s what pushes me every day, every class, every obstacle. Your story deserves to be told, its the truth that people try to blind themselves to. I have mush respect for you.

  9. Thank you Dr. Jacobs! As I’m in the heat of med school interviews, being a black female, and wanting to be a pediatric neonatologist myself, it inspires me that you are out there fighting the good fight. Thank you for continuing to pave the way for people like me. I hope to join you in the front lines soon.

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About the Author

Dr. Kay Jacobs
Dr. Kay Jacobs

Dr. Kay Jacobs is a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children's Hospital.