The Doctor is in: Why Black Men are Desperately Needed in the Medical Field

Dr. Jason Denny, far left, is a senior staff surgeon and director at the Center for Living Donation at the Henry Ford Transplant Institute and chair of the Detroit Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) Foundation. Dr. James J. Jeffries II, center, a senior staff internist with the Division of Hospital Medicine, primarily operates out of Henry Ford West Bloomfield. Dr. Anthony Stallion, far right, chief of Pediatric Surgery at Beaumont Children’s, specializes in pediatric general and thoracic surgery. 

Photos provided by Henry Ford, Henry Ford West Bloomfield, and Beaumont Children’s Hospital

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see.”  

Black American author Jason Reynolds shared his thoughts in this quote about growing up and becoming a writer during a time he didn’t have any role models that he could look to for his career profession. The writer overcame the challenge of not reading a book until he was 17 years old.   

In the last 40 years or so the needle hasn’t moved much when it comes to seeing more Black men in the medical field.   

The number of Black male doctors there are in America is extremely low: roughly 3 percent, according to nationwide statistics.  

The Michigan Chronicle interviewed three Black male doctors (ranging in career fields and experience in metro Detroit) to get their take on why these statistics are the way they are, what can be done and what might the future hold.  


Dr. Denny is In  

Dr. Jason Denny, 51, a senior staff surgeon and director at the Center for Living Donation at the Henry Ford Transplant Institute and chair of the Detroit Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) Foundation spoke about his lengthy career in medicine.   

Denny, who grew up in New York, said that his brother is also a transplant surgeon, “which is a little weird.”  

“My brother is five years older than me, and I knew I wanted to go into transplant a little earlier than him. He obviously did it before me,” Denny said, adding that the history of Black surgeons in the country has racist roots.   

Denny quotes a 1987 book, “A Century of Black Surgeons: The U.S.A. Experience” by Claude H. Organ Jr. and how Black surgeons were initially not allowed to practice in the United States.  

Even in the modern times, Denny said that he followed Black medical pioneers decades earlier and saw how they overcame bias and more.  

“I met a lot of these guys, their stories [were filled with] a lot of adversity,” he said adding that they helped motivate him. “It was really inspiring to me and set me on a path. Once you know what legacy is and where you fit in it is a lot easier to pursue the dream.”  

Denny joined student organizations in school and Black medical student organizations around the country and he met other Black medical students who shared their stories.  

“You can see yourself in their shoes,” he said.  


Dr. Jeffries is In  

Dr. James J. Jeffries II, a senior staff internist with the Division of Hospital Medicine, primarily operates out of Henry Ford West Bloomfield. He also works with the residency program teaching the second-and third-year Internal Medicine residents about hospitalist level of care.   

Jeffries said that his interest in medicine started early in life when he was possibly an elementary school student.  

“I found that science was definitely one of the drivers that I always enjoyed,” Jeffries, 59, said of biology and chemistry classes, in particular.  

He added that the loss of his brother to acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was a teenager was “one of the biggest inspirations” for him to pursue a career in medicine.  

“I had no one else in the family in medicine,” he said, adding that his father did obtain a nursing degree, but he had no exposure to physicians of color in his formative years. A portion of his adulthood was much of the same.  

Jeffries said that he was in his late 20’s when he met for the first time a Black physician in internal medicine who was one of two internists where he did his training at St. Joe’s in Ann Arbor.  

“I came to Henry Ford in 1991 and was hired by a gentleman who is from Malawi — that was my first [Black] mentor when I became a senior staff at Henry Ford.”  

He added that it “would be nice” to see great representation and have more Black men in the medical field.  

“I talk about this constantly … how we don’t see the numbers — we need to start at an early age … to get to hopefully 10 percent or more of the physician workforce,” he said adding that this starts early in elementary school and middle school. “Identifying those that have the talent and the potential for matriculating into healthcare careers, especially medicine.”  


Dr. Stallion is In  

Anthony Stallion, chief of Pediatric Surgery at Beaumont Children’s, specializes in pediatric general and thoracic surgery, and hails from St. Louis, Mo., originally. The 60-year-old’s medical career began locally after he graduated from college in Michigan and started his pediatric surgery training at Children’s Hospital.  

He was a general surgery resident in 1994 and completed pediatric surgery in 1996. Out of the 225 students graduating in his University of Michigan Medical School class in 1983, seven or eight were Black men.  

“That wasn’t a lot then,” he said, adding that the numbers have gotten more than likely worse now.  

Stallion said that the lack of Black men in this field boils down to “the lack of opportunity and the lack of chance to pursue careers.”  

He added that the issue is not a lack of interest but “how we treat our African American males from the very beginning.”  

He said it’s important to work with students, especially Black boys, and help cultivate their interest each step of the way.  

“When you talk about the percentage who go into medicine … the vast majority of the people of color who were going into medicine are women,” he said. “The males have been left behind in a sense …not getting support and the mentorship and so forth that is necessary.”  

Stallion said that having role models can be hard when they are not readily in front of Black boys.  

“You don’t know that is a possibility for you and it’s hard for your eyes to be opened to something that you don’t know even exists,” he said. 


Stopping Marine Plastic Pollution: A Key IUCN Congress Goal

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Plastic bags may remain intact for years in the marine environment. Plastic products certified to be industrially compostable are no solution for littering, as they do not degrade efficiently in the environment and continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they break down. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

St David’s, Wales, Jul 1 2021 (IPS) – Documented images of albatross chicks and marine turtles dying slow deaths from eating plastic bags and other waste are being seared into our consciences. And yet our mass pollution of Earth’s seas and oceans, fuelled by single-use plastics and throw-away consumerism, just gets worse.

Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless sea turtles every year. Plastics, with all their benefits and promises, have revolutionised societies and economies since their development in the 1950s, but now some 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans every year.

Waste plastic, making up to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, breaks down into micro-plastics which enter the digestive systems of sea and land animals and humans. Invisible plastic is in the water we drink, the salt we eat and the air we breathe. Experts are still working out the long-term impacts, such as cancer and impaired reproductive systems.

The fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture also leave a massive legacy in terms of ocean waste, poisoning and ensnaring sea life.

Hasna Moudud heads a small NGO in Bangladesh, working to protect coastal areas where vast rivers pour into the Indian Ocean, providing livelihoods and food for millions.

Her NGO, Coastal Area Resource Development and Management Association (Cardma), plants coastal trees, protects olive ridley sea turtles in a conservation hatchery in the Bay of Bengal, and helps women in cottage industries, using cane grass to make mats instead of plastic.

“Oceans are always neglected,” she tells IPS. “Small NGOs like myself take risks to save whatever we can of the fragile ecosystem that is left for our future generations.”

Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

But to combine her NGO’s efforts with those of others, Moudud says she is “praying” to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille this September where government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations from around the world will join discussions to set priorities and drive conservation and sustainable development action.

Meeting every four years – with this Congress delayed by the Covid pandemic – member organisations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vote on major issues to shape humanity’s response to the planet’s conservation crises. This particular Congress in Marseille is offering both in-person and virtual participation options, allowing those unable to make the trip to Marseille for the full Congress the opportunity to join discussions and provide their feedback.

Moudud’s NGO is a co-sponsor of Congress Motion 022: “Stopping the global plastic pollution crisis in marine environments by 2030.”

The broad resolution goes to the heart of the waste plastics issue. It notes that global production is due to increase by 40% over the next 15 years from current levels of around 300 million tonnes and that the world’s “predominant throwaway model” means that over 75% of the plastics ever produced to date are waste, “notably because the price of plastic on the market does not represent all of the costs of its lifecycle to nature or society”.

Recalling previous international efforts to set goals for ending marine plastic litter, the motion calls on the international community to reach a wide-ranging global agreement to combat marine plastic pollution. This would entail, among other measures, eliminating unnecessary plastic production, in particular single-use plastic waste; recycling and proper prevention of leakage into the environment; and public awareness campaigns.

Sunlight, salt and pounding waves grind marine litter down to plastic grains. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

Activists say previous international efforts to curb plastic pollution have been toothless. Moudud is among many who want mandatory and enforceable measures, accusing big business of what she calls “manipulative practices through sponsorship and malpractice without helping build the natural world”.

“No one is looking or holding the polluters responsible,” she says, calling for a toughening up of the resolution. “I am deeply involved in everything IUCN does to help save the natural world and sustainable living.”

Steve Trott, project manager for IUCN-member Watamu Marine Association which is tackling plastic pollution in their Marine Protected Area in Kenya, says Motion 022 clearly sets out the threats posed by plastic waste to marine and coastal environments, economies and human health and well-being.

“Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Recycling based on the Kenya coast embrace the IUCN call for action,” Trott told IPS.

Pushing circular economy initiatives, their NGO has created dynamic plastic value chains through partnerships between the hotels industry and local communities, sponsoring beach clean-ups and collecting plastic waste for recycling. This provides a second source of income for community waste collectors while local artists are also up-cycling plastic waste.

Reflecting one of the main themes of IUCN’s membership structure bringing together civil society and indigenous peoples and government authorities, Trott says Watamu is following a “win-win model which can be replicated and up-scaled, sending out an ‘Act Local, Think Global’ message to inspire others”. He hopes to attend the Congress in Marseille if all goes well.

Single Use items are littering the world’s oceans. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

The Plastic Waste Makers index, a study by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, identifies 20 companies producing more than half of all single-use plastic waste in the world. Some are state-owned and multinational corporations, whose plastic production is financed by major banks. The report notes that nearly 98% of single-use plastic is made from what is called virgin fossil fuels — plastic created without any recycled materials.

Single-use plastics explain why fossil fuel companies are ramping up their production as their two main markets of transport and electricity generation are being decarbonised. By 2050 plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Humankind possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge but also the accompanying responsibility, knowing that oceans are in the poorest health since humans started exploiting them.

Single use plastics – and the estimated 130 million tonnes that are dumped each year around the world – have dominated studies and discussions on waste. Plastic bottles, food containers and wrappers, and single-use bags are the four most widespread items polluting the seas.

One element woven into similar narratives of how to tackle the world’s burning environmental issues – such as carbon emissions, species loss, and plastic waste – is the potential fix offered by technology. Motion 022 refers to the need for more investment in environmentally sound plastic waste collection, recycling and disposal systems as well as forms of recovery.

A study led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon institute focuses on inventive sea-cleaning solutions to date, including floating drones. But her paper suggests that it could take about a century to remove just 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using clean-up devices because plastic production and waste are accumulating so fast.

Activists welcome IUCN’s intervention on plastic waste pollution and the strong mandate a successful and unanimous motion can convey to governments and international institutions. But they also caution against taking too narrow an approach towards tackling marine pollution at the September 3-11 Congress.

Eleonora de Sabata, spokesperson for the Clean Sea Life project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, told IPS that the narrative needs to shift away from single-use plastic to single-use everything. “Technology” has come up with so-called ‘bio’ plastics as a replacement for some plastics but only to create a whole suite of problems of their own.

“It’s the throwaway culture that creates problems, whether plastic or not. Green washing and sloppy leadership are filling our world of single use,” she argues. Washing our consciences by simply substituting single-use plastics with other single-use items, such as supposedly biodegradable bags and cutlery, are not the answer.