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INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION OF PHYSICIANS: BLACK MEN IN WHITE COATS

A new student organization at Sidney Kimmel Medical College aims to improve health outcomes and inspire future Black physicians.


By Sarah Miller

January 31, 2024


Last year, Black Men in White Coats conducted health screenings at a block party. Members are pictured here with Rev. Dr. Terry Oakman (center), pastor of Philadelphia’s National Temple Baptist Church.


When Kevin Carolina was in high school, aspiring to be a nurse, he heard a startling statistic—there were fewer Black men in medical school in 2014 than in 1978.


That fact alone changed the course of Carolina’s life and career. Instead of becoming a nurse, he decided to become a doctor. Now, Carolina is a second-year student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College.


But he hasn’t forgotten about that statistic. “The lack of Black representation in medicine will ultimately lead to negative health outcomes for the Black community and patients across the country,” says Carolina, class of 2026.


To help correct this disparity, Carolina founded a Sidney Kimmel Medical College chapter of Black Men in White Coats, an organization that aims to increase the number of Black men in the field of medicine. With this chapter—notably the first in Pennsylvania—Carolina and his fellow members look to uplift the next generation of physicians and serve the Philadelphia community.


Founding members of Black Men in White Coats include (l-r) Ignatius Hazelwood, Oluwafikunayomi Ibironke, Olamide Olawuni, Nathan Delacth, Kevin Carolina, Emmanuel Adekanye and Abdallah Maftah.



Since the chapter’s start this time last year, they’ve already made a big impact, partnering with schools, churches and groups like the Jefferson Collaborative for Health Equity to organize community health screenings, clothing and food drives, and speaking opportunities across the city.


“The goal is to increase representation of Black men at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, serve our community and inspire the next generation of Black doctors,” says founding member and vice president Olamide Olawuni, class of 2026. “There aren’t many Black people in our position, so kids don’t have mentors to look up to. We want kids to see that, despite their circumstances, they can become doctors just like us.”


“Representation matters,” says social media chair Emmanuel Adekanye, class of 2026. “We recognize the significance of donning a white coat. We see how empowering it is for the community to see Black men in medicine. It’s empowering for us, too, to know that we’re standing here on the foundation of our community.”


"I don’t just want to climb the ladder. I want to reach back and pull others up with me." –Medical Student Gil Barksdale

Member Gil Barksdale, class of 2027, adds, “In a city like Philadelphia that’s predominantly Black and African American, it’s important to build trust. We can’t ignore the gap that exists between the Black community and the medical establishment, in the past and to this day. Our presence, showing community members there are people in health care that look like them and care about them, helps bridge this gap and improve outcomes.”


That representation on campus and in the community is one of the reasons Barksdale decided to come to Jefferson. “When I learned about this chapter, I knew I had an opportunity to get involved and make a difference,” he says. “I don’t just want to climb the ladder. I want to reach back and pull others up with me. This chapter helps us strengthen our own community, grow closer as Black men and work toward a common goal.”


Shaping the Future of MedicineDiversity in medical schools is a big issue nationally, and Jefferson is making strides in this regard. However, there’s more to be done. Despite rising medical school enrollment among Black, Hispanic and women students, only 5.7% of U.S. doctors are Black.


Even outside the chapter, students like Carolina, Olawuni, Adekanye and Barksdale hope to fix that for future generations. When asked about their career goals and plans for the future, these students have many.


Black Men in White Coats have partnered with the Jefferson Collaborative for Health Equity. Pictured here, they work with Collaborative Medical Director Dr. Deborah Witt.


All four men plan on specializing and leading community-oriented practices so they can continue to give back and fight for health equity in their communities. Olawuni, who grew up in Nigeria, also wishes to return there and provide much-needed medical expertise and resources.


As for the chapter’s future, the group plans to build recognition for its name and mission, grow its outreach efforts and become more rooted in the Philadelphia community. They’re currently developing more local partnerships, particularly with school groups so they can provide formal mentoring and guidance to students looking to pursue careers in healthcare.

Carolina wants to use this chapter to make a difference, and he thanks his fellow founding members—Olawuni, Adekanye, Nathan Delacth, Oluwafikunayomi Ibironke, Ignatius Hazelwood and Abdallah Maftah—for helping pave the way to a more equitable future in medicine.


“So far, our efforts have only scratched the surface,” Carolina says. “I want to inspire other Black students to come to Jefferson and invest in our community, and I want to serve as an example for other medical colleges to form their own chapters of Black Men in White Coats. We may be the first chapter in Pennsylvania, but we don’t want to be the last.”


Read the article on The Nexus by clicking here.

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