The Second Annual Black and Latina Women in Medicine Forum

by Anase Asom, MS1

On Thursday, February 15, the James E. Bowman Society of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine hosted “Claiming our Space,” the Second Annual Black and Latina Women in Medicine Forum. This panel discussion brought together Black and Latina medical students and housestaff from all the Chicago-area medical schools for a night of empowerment and community-building. Through thoughtful panel discussion and round table conversations, the event aimed to further explore the multitude of lived experiences Black and Latina women face navigating academic and medical spaces throughout our careers in medicine.

Attendees of the event included Black and Latina women of all stages of medicine, representing everyone from medical students to faculty.

The event began with a reading of an excerpt of Maya Angelou’s seminal poem “Still I Rise” by Maria Espinosa, MS2, one of the inaugural forum coordinators:         

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

In the spirit of female empowerment and tenacity, Audrey Tanksley, MD, moderated a robust conversation featuring a wide array of attending physicians, including: Vietta Johnson, MD, Pilar Ortega, MD'06, Monica Peek, MD, MPH, Sandra Sanguino, MD, MPH, Milda Saunders, MD, MPH,  and Monica Vela, MD’93. Their backgrounds are as diverse as they are groundbreaking — these phenomenal women practice and research topics ranging from diabetes care and medical Spanish to orthopedic surgery and medical ethics. Simultaneously, all panelists readily retain a steadfast commitment to mentorship and relationship-building in underserved populations.

Monica Vela, MD'93 (far right) responds to a question posed by moderator  Audrey Tanksley, MD (far left). (L-R) Audrey Tanksley, MD, Vietta Johnson, MD, Pilar Ortega, MD'06, Monica Peek, MD, MPH, Sandra Sanguino, MD, MPH, Milda Saunders, MD, MPH, and Monica Vela, MD'93.

The panelists earnestly responded to questions and reflected on their lived experiences on a variety of topics, including:

  • Mentorship in the medical profession and its importance for women of color;
  • Doubt, imposter syndrome, and celebrating, while also overcoming, the unique set of experiences the intersection of race and gender present;        
  • Local and global impacts of personal, academic, and clinical care in communities of color;
  • The future of Black and Latina women in medicine and the path to achieve greatness.

The panelists all echoed the sentiment of personal buy-in when speaking to the unique complexities women of color navigate. Our growing community flourishes because of the perseverance of the women who forged the path prior to us. We best honor their legacy by not only prioritizing compassionate care throughout our daily practice, but also pushing ourselves to the highest echelons of academic success in any field we delve into. Both Dr. Johnson and Dr. Saunders spoke to the importance of strong female relationships, in conjunction with mentoring, all throughout our academic training. We, as Black and Latina women in medicine, require more than our individual efforts to succeed; we depend on mentors, cheerleaders, advisors, peers, and friends. This network acts as both a support and safety-net, celebrating us at our highs and supporting us at our lows.

Attendees of the event were surveyed at closing to reflect on their understanding of the future of Black and Latina women in medicine.

I see us continuing to work together to bring each other up so one day we won’t be the uniforms of the field.

[We need] More events like this... where we can lift each other up, support each other, and share ideas and resources.

The second iteration of this forum allowed for an added level of introspection to be built upon in the years to come. As medical students, the rigors of academics and cocurricular activities can often dampen or even pigeonhole our career outlooks in medicine. However, the presence of these women and the continual validation of our worth provide a unique blanket of optimism and joy. We as Black and Latina women are forever deserving of respect and encouragement throughout our medical careers — let us continue to grow and celebrate our current accomplishments and the many to come.

Mission: This event aims to empower and support Black and Latina women in medicine by fostering relationship building and creating an opportunity to learn from the leaders of our growing community. This year's event will explore the multitude of lived experiences Black and Latina women face throughout our careers in medicine. By bringing together a collective of medical students, residents, faculty, and attendings, we hope to facilitate a robust discussion with women across the Chicago area.