Anika Nina Watson, MD, attending radiologist in Atlanta, GA, contributed this post.

After several years of playing the violin, I made the decision. Enthralled by the deep, rich notes and the tall, commanding presence along the periphery of the orchestra, I was going to play the string bass. Rather than continue as one musician in a large section of violinists, I would create the bass beat. Often as the only person in my section – and even more uniquely, a female bassist. The resolve to pursue interests that most fascinated and intrigued me would lead to other important decisions later in my life. At times, it would mean standing out again.

During my first year of medical school, my fascination with anatomy and the critical information obtained from images drew me to radiology. At points along my course to become a radiologist, it was challenging to remain as enthusiastic. I would look at residency class pictures, browse the websites of private practices and enter conference rooms containing thousands of radiologists, yet sometimes rarely see another face that looked like me. At these times I was most aware that I stood out and felt that I stood alone.

However, those uncomfortable feelings quickly dissipate when thinking back on numerous rewarding experiences with patients and colleagues. I think fondly of the elderly patient who called me at the end of an arduous day to let me know how much it meant to her to have a black, female radiologist perform her breast biopsy. It brings to mind the enjoyable opportunities that I had to give presentations in rooms filled with women of color and discuss the importance of screening mammograms, one black woman to another. I consider the calls and emails that I have received from medical students and residents whom I have never met in search of advice and support.

Minority patients face countless barriers in the pursuit of quality care. According to a Journal of the American Medical Association study, these barriers include less access to care, using fewer health care resources and less satisfaction with the care they receive. Data from the Commonwealth Fund’s Minority Health Survey indicates the importance of racial and cultural factors in the patient-physician relationship. According to the survey, patients who receive care from concordant physicians are more satisfied with the care they receive and more likely to pursue preventive and necessary medical care.

Now, in this period of reflection as we observe Black History Month, I realize that although at times I may stand out, I don’t stand alone. Just as an orchestra is composed of numerous musicians playing various instruments, each has an individual and unique role in the creation of something great. I treasure the unique opportunities that I have in patient care, education and mentorship.

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