Dr. Celeste Green, a first-generation Jamaican American and a native of South Florida, is one of the founders of the White Coats Black Doctors (WCBD) foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity in the medical profession and to support the development of future Black physicians. The organization was created in 2015 by a group of five Black medical students who recognized that Black men and women are under-represented among physicians and wanted to encourage more Black people to become doctors.
Dr. Green graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in 2018 after completing her BA in Legal Studies at the University of Central Florida. She earned a Master’s degree in Public Health at The George Washington University. She is completing her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina. She currently serves on the advisory board of the WCBD.
The co-founders of the WCBD foundation and members of its advisory board with Dr. Green are Spencer Carter, MD; Kevin Courts, MD; and Anthony McClenny, MD, MPH. Jenay Powell, MD, is the organization’s executive director.
“As someone who has spent significant time studying the physician-patient relationship, I think the most crucial part of practicing medicine is the interaction with the patient. African Americans have well-founded distrust of the healthcare system. Historical egregious experimentation and mistreatment of Black patients has left many unsure of whether or not their healthcare providers truly have their best interests at heart. Studies have shown that patient outcomes are better when patients have greater trust of their physicians, and who better to look after us than our own. Representation matters.” said co-founder Dr Jenay Powell when we asked why should the black community be concerned about the number of black doctors serving them. She continued “Further, the presence of Black physicians begets more Black physicians. Though all five WCBD founders are first-generation physicians, we were all influenced by physicians who treated us directly or were known to us in our communities. The more successful Black physicians that exist in our communities, the more young aspiring physicians-to-be will believe in themselves and understand what is possible.”
Appearing on “The Drew Barrymore Show” on March 12, 2021, Dr. Green and Dr. Powell discussed their organization, highlighting the fact that, according to the “New York Times,” only five percent of the doctors in the United States are Black, and only two percent are Black women. Dr. Powell recalled the time before there was a formal organization, describing how, in 2015, Dr. Green had the idea to print t-shirts for a group of medical students to wear to a medical education conference in New Orleans. The t-shirts read “White Coats Black Doctors” to celebrate their achievements at their medical school. While “literally walking down Bourbon Street” wearing the shirts, people stopped them and wanted to know where they could buy them. Names and numbers were taken down as the group figured out how to distribute the shirts, and once the shirt sales began to bring in money, the five founders discussed what they wanted to do with it. And all of them being first-generation doctors and looking back on their experiences in entering the medical profession, they came up with the idea to start the foundation as a way to give back to other students in the form of scholarships.
Dr. Green discussed the reasons why there is such a low number of Black doctors, noting that it is due chiefly to a lack of opportunity and a lack of support and encouragement. The data confirm this view, as it shows that Black students are more likely to attend schools with limited resources and less likely to be enrolled in STEM courses or summer enrichment programs. These elements provide the pipeline to medical education, and minority students have less access to the pipeline. She added that a Black child may not ever see a Black doctor during their entire upbringing and may never meet a Black doctor in their adult lives. “And so for us, for White Coats Black Doctors, the phrase that I like to say is that our visibility is our activism,” she said.
While starting a nonprofit in her medical school years was not one of her too-do items, Dr. Green is grateful to her visionary WCBD team for inspiring her. In her personal life, Dr. Green enjoys cooking and making playlists. Her main cultural influences include “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” jerk chicken, and “The College Dropout.”
Here is the Jamaicans.com team’s conversation with Dr. Green.
What inspired you to be a doctor?
The initial source of inspiration was my pediatrician, Dr. Jacinta Magnus, who is herself a Jamaican-born physician. I have never forgotten what it felt like hearing my doctor speak with that familiar Jamaican-accented lilt that my parents have. Seeing someone who looks and sounds like my family does wearing that white coat gave me the belief that I could don one myself. Apart from the intellectual curiosity sparked by studying and understanding the human body, it really has been a very personal sense of accomplishment and pride to make a difference in peoples’ lives at their most vulnerable moments and in the most precious of ways- through their health and wellbeing. However, I would not have seen myself as able to contribute in that way had it not been for Dr. Magnus and the other couple handfuls of Black physicians who forged paths that I mimicked as I made my own way through this journey to a life in medicine.
Why is important for people of color to pursue careers as medical doctors?
First off, because we can; secondly, because patients of color matter. There is nothing that we, as people of color, are less capable of achieving compared to non-people of color; the reason there are so few Black and minority physicians today is only a matter of withheld opportunity. The 2020 global pandemic has placed a magnifying glass over the long-standing disparities in health outcomes among patients of color. I also have witnessed these disparities firsthand through taking care of my patients. Many of these experiences are related to the inequities integrated into the healthcare system from years of systemic discrimination of people of color. So, it is our responsibility as physicians of color to help call attention to and address those inequities. All of the work cannot and should not rest solely on physicians of color, but certainly there is value in seeing and being treated by a physician who shares your background and experiences; and, on the physician-side, I think there is value and fulfillment that comes from taking care of your people as well.
Did your Jamaican heritage play a role?
The role my heritage played in my pursuit of this profession is related to the value placed on education by my parents. As immigrants, they sacrificed more than I’ll probably ever be able to truly comprehend in order to give me the chance to pursue that American dream of being “anything you want to be.” I felt a responsibility as a first-generation American to make the most of the opportunities afforded to me through their sacrifice, and for me it meant reaching the pinnacle of academic success in obtaining a doctorate degree. What’s more important though was that my parents set an example for me of not being the best for my own sake, but for the sake of my community. So, whether or not someone positively affects the lives of those around them through medicine, teaching, the fine arts or another profession, what matters is that we as Jamaicans and people of Jamaican heritage are helping to uplift our fellow brothers and sisters who bleed black, green, and gold.