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How Student Leader Curtis McInnis, Jr., Honors Black History Month

February 25, 2022

 

030322_IOME_McInnis_150x200Curtis McInnis, Jr., MA, is a third-year medical student at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine - Virginia Campus (VCOM-Virginia) and professional development director of the Student Osteopathic Medical Association.

Learn how Curtis celebrates and honors Black History Month, what advice he shares with others interested in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion 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?

Curtis: The first thing that comes to mind is creating a space where people of color can feel comfortable being vulnerable and sharing their issues and what they're going through. In these settings, listening is important—actively listening—not listening to respond or share a rebuttal, but really taking in what people are saying, because these are their real issues and real experiences, and aren’t intended to be seen as pointing a finger or casting blame. Also, when you have an institution that is making decisions about Black health and wellness, it’s important to make sure that the people who are voting are representative of your population. It is hard to understand another’s perspective if you’re not in their shoes. You can empathize and you can sympathize but until you're living that life every day, you can't ever really understand, and that's okay, but it shows why representation matters. Specifically, within healthcare, I would love to see more hospital advocacy, and more departments reaching out to communities to better understand what they’ve gone through, what changes they would like to see and what hospital systems can do better because, at the end of the day, without the people in your community, there is no hospital system. I think that gets lost sometimes, and kind of taken for granted, so it’s important to show members of every community that we're here for them no matter what, and we want to hear what's going on with them and show them that, ultimately, we want to create a system that works better for everyone in the long run.

Q: As a national medical student leader and advocate, what inspires your work and leadership, and what makes you passionate about advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in medicine and medical education?

Curtis: I’ve had so many great mentors who pushed me behind the scenes, who believed in me and motivated me. Some of them looked like me, and some didn't. Knowing that I could not have gotten to where I am today without their help and support makes me want to do the same for others, whether they are pursuing medicine or not. That's what drives my passion—knowing the impact I can have. I'm in a unique situation and it's an honor that I’m now able to inspire others. Also, I see how important representation in healthcare is. I had a patient maybe two months ago who got some rough news. Unfortunately, the person who delivered the news left the patient wondering, what does this mean for me and my future? When I walked in to check on the patient, I saw the look of relief on their face. At that moment, everything that we go through as medical students, all the hours of studying, the stress of it all, it made it worth it, because even though I’m not yet a doctor and wasn't able to give them a full synopsis of what was going on, I was able at least to provide some comfort and explain it to the best of my abilities, and go get someone who was able to explain it further and answer their questions in detail. Representation is so important because sometimes there might be a barrier that you're not readily able to recognize unless you come from a similar background.

Q: What advice would you share with other osteopathic medical students who are interested in working to help advance diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Curtis: Going back to the first question, listening to the experiences that your peers are going through plays an extremely important role. It also creates a relationship where you’ll all feel comfortable talking about problems and coming up with solutions together. Be open to feeling uncomfortable. These can be uncomfortable, even controversial, conversations, but there is nothing wrong with healthy dialogue. Hopefully, everyone walks away with a better understanding and can come to a better solution, but if you’re not open to feeling uncomfortable, then you won’t have these conversations and you won’t get to the root cause of what's going on. Also, educate yourself, and take it upon yourself to read articles and excerpts about these issues. Take accountability to learn for yourself. Then maybe you’ll have something to bring to the conversation next time. It's a stepwise process and that's okay. Change won’t happen overnight, and nothing is going to be perfect the first time around. Be comfortable with trial and error, and with failing sometimes, and then going back to the drawing board and asking, what can we do differently to make this work, or what can we do differently to make sure that everyone is included? Identify what you’re most passionate about and put your efforts there, because you can't realistically attack every avenue. If you pick one or two things you’re passionate about and put all your research and energy there, you can have an even greater outcome versus trying to spread yourself too thin.

Q: How are you celebrating and honoring Black History Month, either individually, with your school or classmates, or otherwise?

Curtis: One thing I took upon myself this year was to look at hidden figures. There are so many behind the scenes who don't get as much recognition, but their work continues to be vital and important to the cause today. This month, I am learning more about them and their stories, and honestly, some are truly inspiring me! For example, Bayard Rustin was crucial to laying the groundwork for the civil rights movement and, unfortunately, he didn't get a lot of recognition because he was an openly gay Black man. His story is so powerful to me because it shows selflessness and commitment. One my favorite ideas to live by is to create something that outlives you. You can plant the seed and you may never see the tree become its biggest, but you know that you contributed by planting that seed. Bayard Rustin embodied that philosophy, and he is one of my favorite people I’ve learned about so far. I'm also working with a church group on a project called Speak Up Don't Be Scared. It's a push for middle, high school and college students in the DC area to talk about virtual learning, coming back from virtual learning and the social barriers there. In the university environment, we help students understand how to get the most out of their learning in a virtual classroom, how to not be afraid to ask questions because they’re behind a computer screen and, as in-person activities begin to return, help them to navigate the change because there is no transitional period. We’re just jumping right back into it. The program has been very impactful, and it's been nice to have people who look like me be able to see me in this field and see that it is possible, no matter what background you may come from. What I’ve most enjoyed about this is helping these students realize their passions.