Tell us about your work.
I am the founder of Melanin, Medicine & Motherhood. An organization dedicated to supporting women physicians of color who are under-represented in medicine with programs targeted toward physician wellness, burnout prevention and providing strategies for success while navigating structural racism and microaggressions in the workplace.
Melanin, Medicine & Motherhood provides Black women physicians with strategy, training and support to stop settling for the lives they have and start living the lives they were meant for using collective “sister circle” spaces that foster vulnerability and empowerment. *
I am committed to help Black women physicians, who often are dismissed and devalued, to get clarity, confidence & courage to tap into their genius, find their purpose and build the plan to their success.
What helped get you there?
I started this work after experiencing clinical burnout in the Fall of 2018 as an academic physician and then being hospitalized 6 months later – after I suddenly lost the ability to walk within the span of a week.I shortly found out that I had multiple sclerosis and 10 days later was discharged with a walker and an uncertain prognosis, that if I didn’t drastically change my life, I might never walk again.
While on 3.5 months of medical leave in rehab, relearning to walk, I finally realized it was a wake up call. I started tracking the strategies and started a Facebook group, as a support group for Black women who were feeling unfulfilled, stuck or burnt out.
Soon after, I realized my zone of genius was teaching strategies to women physicians of color to help them thrive (something I had been doing passionately over the last 11 years with peers). After seeing the growth of the group and the desire for structured coursework and programming, I started building a program to suit these needs called MPOWERED.
Have there been any interests that you have continued to pursue outside of medicine? Have you been able to combine these with your medical career?
During this time, I also realized my burnout wasn’t from a lack of desire to work clinically but the need for an environment that could suit my needs. I founded Strong Children Wellness, a group practice in NY committed to serving low-income, underserved populations through partnership and co-location of physical health services in community based organizations. I work as a telehealth provider within this practice, due to my mobility issues and then work on MPOWERED and providing coaching and strategy for women physicians.
What challenges have you faced in your medical career?
I am a black woman. In 2004, I became a doctor and decided on pediatrics. It was a space that allowed me to have access to moms in one of the most intimate ways- getting to know their worries and fears, their doubts. However, early in my career- before kids- I shared what I had read in my textbooks, which I realize now did not speak to the many moms of color that I was providing health education too . But when I became a mother in 2012, it was a realization that I was experiencing the same doubts as my patients, the same fears when I had to trust that the physician who didn’t look like me was not biased. Yet I couldn’t share that bond with the moms of the patients I cared for, that’s not what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to maintain distance and not steer from the tried and true parenting recommendations (that were specifically created for the general population- aka- White moms). A few years later in 2014, with the birth of my 2nd daughter, I was so overwhelmed and experienced post-partum depression, I knew something had to change. But change is scary.
So for many years, I struggled in silence, trying to navigate the workload, trying to be supermom, trying to dispel the myth that because I was a working mom, I couldn’t be there for everything for my 2 daughters. I did this even at the sacrifice of my body, my mental health and my inner desires. Because if there is one thing we learn in medical school, it’s that we aren’t allowed to show our pain, our fear, our worry, our challenges- that’s weak. We are trained to be there for the people around you, your patients, not yourself- and we are told that a lack of vulnerability makes us a better doctor. It becomes a recipe for disaster, when we apply that mantra to our whole life, including motherhood.
And for me as a black woman physician, showing any vulnerability is almost always perceived wrongly and usually leads to some judgment.
That I’m not competent.
That I’m not strong.
That I’m not intelligent.
That I’m not meant to be a doctor.
And for many of us it’s hard to find other Black women doctors to tell you the truth that you’re none of those things. Why? Only 2% of doctors in the US are black women. That’s literally 18,000 doctors in the entire country.
So we need communities that can lift us up and support us. This helps us thrive and ensuring black women physicians thrive in healthcare settings impacts all black women by improving doctors’ well-being and their capacity to elevate black women entering healthcare settings, as patient or provider. When a thriving Black woman physician is present, it helps Black women to be seen, be heard and receive culturally-sensitive healthcare. My later years as a pediatrician, I have been blessed by my ability to show my faults, my mistakes in motherhood and allow the moms of my patients, especially moms of color to open up and know that the space I create in my office is safe and judgment-free. It is the only way we can truly build the relationships that are necessary to reduce maternal mortality and other horrific health statistics for black women. In addition, we have the perspective to guide our colleagues who are not Black women, in how to heal the mistrust that the American healthcare system has created for Black women.
What advice do you have for women in medicine?
The fact that representation of Black women physicians, including Black mom physicians, may be decreasing is devastating and I think one major factor is not having spaces where they can discuss the challenges of being black women who are both moms and physicians, openly and honestly. The epidemic of increased morbidity and mortality among black women can only be stopped by: 1) cultivating circles that demand change in how we are treated, how we are judged and how we are able to lead and 2) voicing our experiences and strategies for change through articles, in media, in our communities.
As a black mom physician, I am choosing to pivot the direction of my motherhood coaching to support this mission. To reflect this mission, I have developed a Facebook group to “Melanin, Medicine & Motherhood”. This is a space where black women physicians can talk motherhood and overcoming the challenges of balancing a career in medicine without sacrificing our personal life, emotional and mental well- being.
I completely understand that some may say the mission and target group is extremely specific, but this is by design. There is a unique burden on black women physicians navigating motherhood, trying to maintain being a model for their family, their patients and their communities and the reluctance of society to acknowledge that we aren’t magical.
We are human.
Those of you who are or know black mom physicians likely understand the need for this support and environment, so I urge you to join or share this space with the women in your life who have chosen the journey of being a doctor and motherhood.
And to my fellow women physicians of color, I also hope that my pivot in centering coaching can be a motivation to know that we all need to follow when our heart and head are calling us to something different, even if we are “comfortable”.
If there is anything I can say, please don’t ignore that voice. Instead, let others hear your message. Let your colleagues know that ally-ship is not sufficient, we need accomplices. People who will give us the space to speak and be vulnerable, support us in that effort and assist in disrupting the biased systems to finally allow Black women physicians to thrive. They are the changemakers that once supported can better support the diverse communities they vowed to serve.
Dr. Omolara Thomas Uwemedimo is a board certified pediatrician for over 15 years, public health professor, researcher and health equity advocate for women and children of color. Dr. Uwemedimo is CEO of Strong Children Wellness, a NY-based comprehensive care network of family primary care integrated into community-based organizations and founder of Melanin, Medicine & Motherhood, an organization focused on supporting the retention of Black women physicians in medicine, in order to ensure equitable care for families of color. In her work, she provides personal development and wellness support for Black women physicians to combat their unique chanllenges of discrimination, bias and burnout within the healthcare system. Black women physicians can schedule a call to learn more about these programs here.
She has dedicated the majority of her career to communities of color, by providing medical care as well as developing programs to strengthen delivery of integrated healthcare and health education. She has worked in NYC, Boston and globally in 12 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. She is a national speaker to both physician and community audiences in the fields of implicit bias in healthcare settings, inclusion and equity for women physicians in healthcare, racism in health, and health of marginalized children and families, including immigrants, low-income and racial/ethnic minorities. She has been featured in several media outlets including ESSENCE, Newsweek, Reuters, NPR and CNN.