Dr. Alane Laws-Barker, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist with her MD from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and MBA from Indiana University Kelley School of Business, is Melanin In Medicine’s Spotlight for the month!
“I believed that if no one would help us, we had to find a way to help ourselves.”
What gave you the desire to work within the healthcare field?
I am passionate about helping others and making a difference. Add that to my curiosity about science and my foundation of faith, and you have the perfect ingredients for a healthcare provider. My desire to be in healthcare was increased by noting the disparities at a very young age. From a young age, I experienced the loss of loved ones to common diseases. Hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell, and that C word (cancer) were rampant in my community. It was scary to see people get sick and never seem to have a chance to get well. I believed if no one else would help us, we had to find a way to help ourselves.
“Melanin is a must in medicine to ensure advocacy, research, and increase trust in the healthcare system.”
What does the phrase “Putting melanin into medicine” mean to you?
It means giving patients an opportunity to interact with healthcare professionals that can relate to them. The healthcare experience is an interactive one. Patients come with problems and are looking for solutions. The relationship between a patient and their healthcare team is extremely important.
Patients of color must believe that the healthcare system understands and cares about the health issues that affect our communities. The world is extremely diverse, and that diversity must be represented in medicine. Melanin is a must in medicine to ensure advocacy, research, and increase trust in the healthcare system.
Tell us about a time where you truly saw the need for greater representation of minorities within the healthcare field
That time is right now! We are living in a time that none of us could have imagined, a pandemic COVID-19. It has been said that this crisis is like none other known to man in over 100 years. Minorities are disproportionately impacted. This health crisis is shining a spotlight on the problems that minorities have faced for years within the healthcare system.
Minorities make up a majority of the COVID deaths, and severe forms of the disease. This illness is clearly showing that underlying health conditions in minority communities have far reaching consequences. I believe that health is wealth. This pandemic has proven that little investment has been made in the health and well being of the minority communities. In communities of color, many illnesses are silent and our community members suffer while no ones watches or cares. COVID-19 is an illness that takes life, food, housing, jobs, mental health, and so much more. I am hopeful that this tragedy brings awareness and opportunity.
“I am exactly where I am supposed to be. This is my journey.”
What has been one of the greatest obstacles that you have encountered on your healthcare journey, and how have you overcome that?
Self-doubt is the greatest obstacle that I have encountered. On this journey there have been many times that obstacles have been in my way. From the beginning of this journey I was told, “People that look like us don’t go to medical school, be a secretary.”
Standardized tests were not easy. Sometimes others were given more assistance. I experienced moments of equality, but rarely of equity. In residency, I was pimped. In fact, often it came from other minorities to make me stronger, and better. These experiences at times created uncertainty. “Can I make it? Am I good enough? Should I be here?” 20 years later, I am still here. I would say that I am overcoming this obstacle.
As a woman of color, continuing in medicine always has obstacles present, so I had to develop a success and wellness plan for myself. My solution was to build my academic foundation, my spiritual life, and my support system. That network included mentors, listeners, those that pray, those that laugh, and those that were just there for me when I needed them. Although there are moments when I know, “I did not get the memo,” I endured, I have passed tests, and I have overcome numerous obstacles. I am exactly where I am supposed to be. This is my journey.
If you could tell future healthcare leaders one thing, what would you say to them?
We need you! Healthcare is the heart of human service. If you feel like this is the occupation for you, please embrace it. You are enough! Come as you are and learn as you go. Medicine is in need of all the bright and enthusiastic young minds that we can find. Success is not measured by what you have, but what you give.