Jeanne Nwagwu is a fourth-year medical student at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine - Virginia Campus (VCOM-Virginia), regional director of the Student National Medical Association and inaugural recipient of VCOM’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Award.
Learn how Jeanne celebrates and honors Black History Month, what advice she shares with others interested in advancing DEI efforts and how the osteopathic medical education community can better support Black health and wellness.
Q: This year’s Black History Month theme, Black Health and Wellness, is particularly relevant to us as medical educators and students. What can our community do to advance Black health and wellness this month and beyond?
Jeanne: As medical educators and students, I think a great place to start is to focus on your specific school community and the community where your school resides. One thing that can be incorporated is to pick a movie or book that discusses the impact the healthcare system has on the Black community and incorporate that either in a discussion during or outside of class. Something else that can be done is for administrators to speak with Black students and ask them for feedback on the needs of their specific medical school and better ways to support them. You can collaborate with Black community leaders on community service activities such as health fairs or fundraisers to help meet the needs of their community. You can pick a community organization that you want to sponsor for the month that supports the needs of the Black community, then continue to build that partnership and collaboration. Listen to your Black students, they will let you know what they need for their own wellness. Collaborate with Black leaders. Making those connections and having those voices in your space will help to advance Black health and wellness.
Q: As a national medical student leader, what inspires your work and leadership, and what makes you passionate about advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in medicine and medical education?
Jeanne: What inspires my work and leadership? Honestly, I love seeing Black students in leadership. There is something to be said about having diverse individuals in leadership. We see the world differently and we're able to catch blind spots that our counterparts may not even recognize that they have. And working with other student leaders of color, I see that collaboration and excitement and passion they have for this work. It only makes me want to work harder to ensure that they still have a safe space to work in their full capacity and achieve whatever goals they have, which continues to keep me passionate about advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in medicine and medical education. I see the impact that these amazing student leaders have on a regular basis, and in my role, I get to support their creativity and their campus efforts, which tells me that the future of medicine is bright and exciting and rich.
Q: What advice would you share with other osteopathic medical students who are interested in working to help advance diversity, equity and inclusion?
Jeanne: Something I realized over time is that working in DEI takes time and it's important to be patient with yourself and with the process as you try to make incremental changes to better your community. My advice is to look within your school. It could be among faculty members, the student body or your curriculum. If there is something that you feel is not meeting the needs of your community, speak to your administration about it. Work with other students and student organizations and collaborate on a project to address it and never let up. A lot of this work takes determination and resilience. If this is something you're passionate about, keep working towards making those changes because it will be worth it in the end!
Q: How are you celebrating and honoring Black History Month, either individually, in your community, with your school or classmates or otherwise?
I'm not doing anything too specific. It’s more of a mindset I have this month and recognizing what brings me joy. By doing those things, I radiate Black joy. Things I have done are watch TV shows and movies by Black creators that have made me smile and laugh or were instrumental in my development as a person. I support Black-owned businesses which is something we should all be doing on a regular basis anyway. I am also taking time to educate myself on topics of Black history that I didn’t learn in school. This month, and most of my days, are spent supporting Black individuals, organizations and communities and uplifting the amazing things Black people have done!