Dr. Kanika Bowen-Jallow was eight years into her pursuit of becoming a pediatric surgeon before she met a surgeon who looked like her, as a Black American.
Now, Bowen-Jallow is a trailblazer in her own right as only the ninth Black female pediatric surgeon in the United States, according to the American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA).
“I honestly had never thought about it before because there are so few of us, that’s always been my reality,” Bowen-Jallow told “Good Morning America.” “You’re just used to that.”
Bowen-Jallow, a Texas native, went through college and medical school in Texas and completed her residency in her home state. She said medical school was the first time she encountered Black physicians in any field.
Bowen-Jallow left Texas to complete her fellowship in pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. It was only there, as she attended conferences in the field, that she said she started seeing fellow Black female surgeons.
“At conferences, you sort of gravitate toward each other,” she said of being one of only a few Black women in her field. “I was used to being a ‘one of the only.’ Did that make it easier? No, but I kind of knew the struggles that went with it.”
Bowen-Jallow said she knew from the age of second grade that she wanted to become a surgeon, making her the first physician in her family. It was that determination that pushed her past discrimination she has experienced along the way, she said.
“I remember when I was in residency and I had my white coat on and was a surgical resident,” Bowen-Jallow said. “And a woman looked at me and asked if I was there to change the sheets. I was rather taken aback by that, but of course it wasn’t the first or the last slight I’ve ever encountered.”
Across the country, less than 3% of doctors in 2019 identified as Black or African-American, according to data from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The low number of Black doctors in the U.S. has remained largely stagnant for the past several decades, according to the AAMC.
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SOURCE: Good Morning America, Katie Kindelan