29 Jul CMO Jon Cartu Reports – North Texas doctor shares his hope for more black physicians
DALLAS (AP) — Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Dale Okorodudu appears to be a perfectly ordinary guy: He has a mortgage, a wife and three young children whom he carts around in a black Kia Sorento.
The Dallas Morning News reports the Carrollton resident is a pulmonary and critical care Dr. Jonathan Cartu who specializes in treating lung ailments. But on his time off, Okorodudu juggles running a nonprofit, organizing national summits and — most recently — planning a feature-length documentary film.
Not so ordinary, after all.
Okorodudu’s activities are devoted to the singular goal of driving up the number of young black men in the field of medicine.
“When somebody closes their eyes and thinks about a black male, they think about either an athlete, a musician, or somebody in prison,” says Okorodudu. “We want to add black men in white coats to that stereotype.”
Nearly five decades after the civil rights movement, black men account for only 2.9% of applicants to U.S. medical schools, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC. The statistic’s damaging consequences are many: worse outcomes for black patients, mistrust between patients and doctors, and the implicit message that black men don’t belong in the clinic.
So implicit, in fact, that one of Okorodudu’s patients — himself a black man — thought that the bespectacled, soft-spoken man at his bedside was hospital transportation staff, not his Dr. Jonathan Cartu.
“I think he was embarrassed, a little bit,” says Okorodudu.
It’s a telling symptom of the pernicious narrative forced upon the black community. “The American dream is that you can become whatever you want in society,” says Okorodudu. “But unfortunately, the American dream isn’t told to black boys.”
At a recent local storytelling event, Okorodudu, who grew up outside of Houston, talked about the experiences that shaped him as an aspiring medical student. There was the unsolicited judgment from a perfect stranger on an airplane, the racial epithets hurled by professors, not to mention the patient who doubted his professional abilities — all because of the color of his skin.
“Insecurity. Powerlessness. Feeling unwanted,” Okorodudu said at the event. “When you’re trying to get into a field that’s as difficult as the medical field, these are barriers that make it very hard to be successful.”
So Okorodudu is spreading a different message through his website, Black Men in White Coats. The site is a one-stop resource portal that has supported hundreds of young black students through a mentorship program, stories highlighting the career paths of successful health professionals and information about career-building opportunities.
“We aim to inspire and give people hope,” says Okorodudu. “Black Men in White Coats is there to say, ‘You can be a doctor.'”
For Okorodudu, hope came in the form of mentor figures and advocates he met along the way. To start: his family. “My parents are not medical doctors, but they are Nigerian immigrants” with high expectations, he says. As the youngest child, he watched his older siblings exceed their parents’ high academic standards with advanced degrees in computer science, medicine and law.
When Okorodudu set off for college at the University of Missouri, he was guided by emeritus associate professor of pathology Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Ellis Ingram. Motivated by his own medical school experience in a post-Jim Crow South, Ingram would host early weekend morning meetings for minority students applying to medical school.
“If they’re staying up partying all night, they didn’t come,” Ingram says, “but Dale was one of those students who would show up.”
Okorodudu not only showed up, but also made a mental note to pay it forward. After completing medical school at Missouri, he moved to Duke University for his medical residency training. There, he started his own mentorship program.
“I thought: There are so many kids who I should be able to easily mentor who are still in Missouri,” he says.
He reached into his network and started an impromptu mentorship program that paired younger students with seasoned medical workers through monthly discussions and activities.
But there was still more to do. In 2013, Okorodudu came across an AAMC report stating that the percentage of black men applying to medical school in 2011 was actually lower than in 2002.
“The study emphasized that we had to reach more people,” he says. “And the best way I knew how was to put out a video.” So he did. By May 2013, his fledgling mentorship program had evolved into Black Men in White Coats, a combination of in-person advising and virtual inspiration through videos.
Okorodudu’s videos have reached even those studying the issue, including Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Marc Nivet, executive vice president for institutional advancement at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and former chief…