Friday, September 4, 2020

Getting this MD is my Form of Protest: Being in Medical School During COVID and a Pandemic of Anti-Blackness (Part II)

SPECIAL NOTE: Brittanie is now halfway to her fundraising goal. Please continue to give generously. These funds are needed to help Brittanie afford tutoring so that she can pass her exams to receive her Medical Doctorate. Her Cash App is: $Brittaniefloyd. And, her Venmo is: @Brittanie-Floyd and her PayPal pool can be found here.
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By Amanda Transue-Woolston, MSS, LSW

"While this year hasn’t been easy for most of us, it has been especially hard on the black community." These words echo in my mind as I continued the rest of my interview with the incredible Ms. Brittanie Floyd. I had already learned a bit about her adoption story and how it played an important role in her aspirations to become a psychiatrist. Her origin story is one we don't hear of often in the adoption community. The exact circumstances of her story may not be rare. However, late-discovery, same-race, infant adoption surrounding infertility is not a perspective often voiced from the BIPOC adoptee perspective. 

Her tales of childhood and the nuances and experiences shaped by the United States' history of racial oppression were compelling. I found myself wanting to ask her so many more questions. But, it was time to move forward in the interview and ask Brittanie about who she is today. She is a black female MD candidate with a recent ADHD diagnosis working as an essential worker during two global pandemics of both medical illness and anti-blackness. How does that even work? How does she not only survive but thrive in an exclusive, high-intensity, competitive academic environment? These are just a few aspects of her life that Brittanie and I discussed, next.

When I was in social work school, I noticed that a great number of my peers were drawn to the profession and to mental health because of struggles of their own. Wanting to understand myself better was a significant motivator in my own journey to becoming a licensed therapist. Yet Brittanie did not receive her ADHD diagnosis until this year. What was her pull to psychiatry, I wondered.
Psychiatry is a way of helping people heal that is totally different from any other field of medicine. It takes everything into account. Your life experiences, family history, and medical history; psychiatry puts all of it together to help you heal. It is a vital medical specialty that has been written off or seen as taboo for far too long. I want to help people, especially those of color, realize that there is no shame in seeking mental health care. It is just as important as maintaining your blood pressure, and in some cases, it may even be contributing to it!
Where does Brittanie see herself in this field? I found myself curious to know more about her dreams and desires for delivering her vital services to future patients.
Thus far in my medical care career, I have seen far too many mentally ill patients shuffled through the ER department. Once there, they are left alone in a room until someone can get to them.There's no immediate intervention because their illness does not present like other medical illnesses seen in the ER. It is my dream to create a soothing, calm, safe environment where people of all colors, cultures, and social economic groups can receive unbiased professional help.

My dream is to open a psychiatric practice that offers urgent care services after hours as well as maintenance psychiatric care. It is my dream for anyone who may be suffering from a mental illness to have access to empathetic care, around the clock.
It was clear to me that this highly empathetic professional was moved by her experiences in medicine thus far. Her desire to build bridges in care and service gaps was palpable. But what is it like getting there? My mind moved from her compassion for others to wondering how she navigates this journey, herself.

My medical school journey has been a wild ride. During the year in college when I found out I was adopted, I was taking my pre-med heavy classes. And, as you can expect, I did not do well. I bounced back the best I could, and I graduated from The University of South Carolina (USA) with a BA in experimental psychology. 

Brittanie's Medical School Journey

After that, I still wanted to be a doctor. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and I worked as a medical tech in an emergency department and at a 24 hour urgent care center. I tutored physiology at Winthrop as a way to pay for my second try at those heavy pre-med classes. It took me two years to complete those prerequisites, and to apply to medical school. I applied all over the country, but that one year in college got me wait-listed. So, I chose to go to a school on the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Maarten. 

One semester before I was to be finished with the basic science part of med school, hurricane Irma hit. It wiped out the island and our school. I lost all my possessions in that hurricane, but I made it home. Two weeks later, the school decided to relocate us to Preston, England, to share available classrooms with a school named UCLAN. It was a disaster, to put it lightly. There were visa issues, which meant there was no professor for over a month. I had to adjust to England’s weather after living in St. Maarten. I’m sure you can imagine the mental health effects of that. 

After that extended semester in England, I came home with just one month to study for my first round of board exams. I jumped over that hurdle, despite all of this and my then-undiagnosed ADHD. Once I got my passing score, my school gave me ten days to find a place to live in New York City. By the grace of God, I got to NYC at 5AM, unloaded my Uhaul, and reported for my first day of rotations at 8AM. 

Now, in my last semester of medical school, COVID19 strikes. And, I have to believe that I will clear this hurdle too. But this time I am breaking the stereotype that we black women are strong, resilient, and therefore don’t need or deserve help. It is a racist and outdated tactic to keep the marginalized where they are. But no longer. Getting this MD is my form of protest. It is my hope that you and everyone reading my story will support me in doing my part to change the world.

On Resiliency

I wonder what must be in the minds of my readers right now. In my mind's eye, that theoried visuo-spatial sketchpad, Brittanie's story brought up the image of a map. I saw a plan traveling from the U.S. to the Carribean to the U.K. and then to New York City. I saw the warm sun and felt humid heat and was filled with chills when the sky became overcast in London as raindrops proverbially fell onto my skin. I could then hear the loudness of the bustling sidewalks of New York City, a strain in my back from carrying boxes up too many stairs, and the sterile smell that I know always hits my face when I walk into a hospital. 

And then my heart sped faster as I thought about what it must be like to have just found out about my adoption during this - during a family dispute, no less. The amount of times each day surrounding people were likely to be less helpful, less considerate, less kind, less accommodating, when not outright hostile and attacking, toward a young black professional. At what point would I - would anyone - have simply collapsed and given up? Brittanie is not only still standing, she is excited, even.

I told Britanie about our recent roundtable discussion at Lost Daughters. I asked her about this expectation of resiliency against which she leverages her MD in an act of protest. I wanted to know more. What are the unseen inequitable energy drains for black women in medical school?
I believe one of the biggest drains I face is one that is extremely prevalent for black women in medicine and in all professions today. We are performing at or above the level of our non-black peers within a system that was never built for us to succeed. Now we are called to the podium to “help fix that system” when something happens that the world cannot look away from. 

On the heels of George Floyd’s murder, came the largest protest that this country has ever seen. It's during a pandemic, at that. This year hasn’t been easy for most of us, but it has been especially hard on the black community. To give a personal example, I was being asked to join a panel of other black medical students in May to “talk about how we feel and how the school can facilitate change.” This may sound like a nice gesture. However, it is "performance activism," and a waste of our precious study time. 

But we show up anyway, re-traumatize ourselves, reiterate the importance of including examples of medical conditions in black folks and POC, because we are dying from it, tell our stories of being excluded from learning situations in hospitals because there are patients that don’t want us “to touch them.” Afterwards, we are left drained, emotionally triggered, angry, sad, and out of 2 hours of study time. But we still have to take the same tests, on the same days as our non black classmates. It is draining, it is unfair, and it is just one of the ways that the system continues to work against us as black women.

There are indeed two pandemics happening in the world around us. Brittanie herself is a target of ant-blackness while saving lives during COVID19. What has that been like? I wondered.

It has been unreal and humbling. Before medical students were pulled out of hospitals in late March, I was doing a clinical rotation in the Bronx. I have never seen so many sick people who could not get care because there were no beds, no tests, no personal protective equipment (PPE). After quarantine began, I volunteered on the crisis help text line and delivered food and medication to those in my neighborhood who could not leave their homes while doing my best to study. For at least 2 months I saw body bags coming out of apartment buildings on my street. It was heartbreaking.
Who is Brittanie outside all of this?
I am a proud activist for human rights, a Harry Potter fanatic, a music lover, and a mom to a sassy 13 year old kitty named Candi that I adopted 2 years ago. I love nature and the water. I even dusted off my old kiddie wading pool to enjoy a little socially distant splash this summer. I love to cook, host guests, and hit the dance floor to some Beyonce. Last, but I think the best, I am an honorary auntie to my best friend's two amazing kids.
What does Brittanie love about herself?
I love that I am persistent in my pursuit of positive and healthy growth. I never let any grass grow under my feet, and I still nurture my inner child! Now who wants to get circles run around them in a game of Uno? 
This is the most important part. How can we support Brittanie in achieving her dreams?
You can support me by cheering me on these next 2 months and donate to my tutoring fund so that I have the structure and guidance passing my last 5 exams of medical school. COVID has caused huge changes for me as a medical student. While these 5 exams were supposed to be spread out over 6 months, they have been delayed and therefore stacked together within the next 2 months. These exams are the only thing in between me and my MD degree. Medical school tutoring sessions cost between $240-$300, but they are helping immensely. I’d like to reach my goal of working with a tutor for 40 hours to ensure readiness for my exams. The prices are extremely steep and a perfect example of why many black people, POC, and those of lower socioeconomic status are unable to access resources and get left behind.
Brittanie's story of navigating abuse, trauma, late discovery adoption, multiple moves, hurricane devastation, addressing COVID19 during NYC, and addressing racism in the wake of the unrest following George Floyd's murder reminds me of a quote I once saw. Novelist Kola Boof said that a black women are the only flowers on earth that grow unwatered. What Brittanie has been up against cannot be simply described as a lack of water. She has been scorched, and yet she thrives. She will achieve her medical doctorate despite what the world has thrown at her, and will serve a world that in large part does not deserve her. We can all do our part to rally around her and make that better. I hope you will join me in that.