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Texas Physician Makes History as 9th Black Female Pediatric Surgeon In the U.S., Recalls Being Asked If She Was There to Change the Sheets During Residency

Black women are slowly but surely diversifying the medical field as the U.S. recognizes its ninth Black female pediatric surgeon: Dr. Kanika Bowen-Jallow.

Dr. Bowen-Jallow is continuing to blaze the trail first scorched by Dr. Andrea Hayes-Jordan in 2004. While joining the elite ranks of Black medical professionals is a remarkable feat, the Texas native can’t help but to acknowledge how many more people from her background could be standing alongside her.

Dr. Kanika Bowen-Jallow performing pediatric surgery alongside a colleague. (Photo: Cook’s Children’s)

“There is a sense of sadness knowing how many others like me could have attained more, without implicit bias in the world; if minority students weren’t underrepresented in medical school,” she told Cook’s Children’s Pediatrics newsroom in March.

Dr. Bowen-Jallow works at Cook Children’s Hospital in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, where she performs various pediatric surgeries, excluding heart surgery. In 2019, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that 3 three percent of doctors identified as Black. The following year only 8 percent of medical students identified as Black.

Neither is a reality Dr. Bowen-Jallow struggles to believe. “You’re just used to that,” she told “Good Morning America” last week. While attending medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch she encountered her first Black physician.

“I honestly had never thought about it before because there are so few of us, that’s always been my reality.”

The lack of diversity in the medical field was made even more real from her while she was completing her residency.

“A woman looked at me and asked if I was there to change the sheets,” she recalled of an incident that occurred. Even while clothed in her white physicians coat Jallow was not shielded from racism or the expectation of a Black person serving as the help.

“I was rather taken aback by that, but of course it wasn’t the first or the last slight I’ve ever encountered,” she recalled. But even dealing with being the only, or one of few, Black physicians in a room, or racial adversity in general was never able to sway her ambition.

Even enduring 17 years of higher education has been time well spent to the wife and mother of two young children. She shared, “You have to know where you come from and where you’re going. You must set yourself up for success. There is implicit bias. It’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Still, the dream of being a doctor, which first blossomed when she was only in second grade, has led her down a path of fulfillment. 

“Working with children is instant gratification. If you perform a good operation, perfect your technique and pay attention to detail. Children will recover well,” she explained. “It fuels my soul, knowing I’m doing what I’ve been called to do.”

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