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11 May 2023

Jasmine Brown discusses her new book “Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians from The Civil War to the Twenty-First Century” 

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May 11, 2023 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

By Kharisma McIlwaine

Women have been deeply immersed in the world of medicine long before modern medicine became a vocation. Documented cases of women being healers, herbalists, midwives and surgeons date back to the 7th century. Despite the many contributions of women in medicine, and specifically women who earned medical degrees in the U.S., we are rarely taught about them. Even though Black women’s contributions to medicine are vast, they are less recognized.

Jasmine Brown, a medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, pays homage to Black women physicians in her debut book, “Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians from The Civil War to the Twenty-First Century.” Brown spoke with the SUN about the importance of the representation of Black women in the medical field and her passion for sharing their history.

Jasmine Brown

As a 2018 Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, Brown quickly discovered the importance of the presence of Black doctors, and what that presence can do to shift various narratives rooted in the biases found in the medical field.

“It started off in undergrad (in the U.S.), experiencing prejudice in the scientific lab space and learning that there were other Black and Latinx students across the country experiencing prejudice as well, [and] being told or assumed to not belong in that space or made to feel ‘other’,” Brown said. I wanted to understand where that was coming from,” Brown said. “When I got the Rhodes scholarship, I found out there was this history of medicine program, and it felt like a great opportunity to look at the historical roots of what I was seeing today. I’ve been really passionate about advocacy and wanting to increase diversity, so I thought that if I understood these historical roots, I would be better armed to tackle the issues that exist today.” 

That quest for understanding inspired Brown to research the history of Black women physicians specifically.

“I decided to focus on it from the experience of a physician,” she said. “While there was literature on the experience of Black physicians and women physicians, there was very little looking at the intersection of being a Black woman physician. Since I am a Black woman and aspiring physician, it felt like a good fit for me. I pursued it initially for my dissertation at Oxford, looking at the social and structural barriers that keep Black women from entering medicine in the US. It was really discouraging at first learning how far back these barriers went and how pervasive they were, but eventually I started finding out about individual Black women physicians and their larger journey beyond those barriers and I felt so inspired. I hadn’t learned about Black women physicians in school, and I actually never met a Black woman physician, despite doing these clinical experiences in undergrad and being pre-med.”

In “Twice As Hard,” Brown recognizes Black women physicians like Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler — the first Black woman to become a doctor. Crumpler graduated just 14 months after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and provided care for formerly enslaved people. Brown recognized the power in sharing stories like that of Crumpler’s as a source of inspiration for Black women in medicine.

“I wanted to share their stories, recognizing that there was this gap in the literature, and also thinking back to friends from high school and myself as a young person who was told that I couldn’t succeed along this path because I’m Black,” Brown said. “I felt that by showing young people Black women have been in medicine for a very long time, that it would counter those messages that ‘you’re Black, so you’re not good enough,’ or ‘you’re not smart enough to pursue this path.’ 

“I also felt that for people who are advocating within this space, whether it be other Black people or allies seeking to address the issues that exist within medicine that are perpetuating the lack of diversity within this space — if they saw the historical roots, they may be able to better tackle it,” Brown added

Brown’s goal of encouraging other aspiring Black women physicians to stay the course also resulted in her finding inspiration in the stories of the Black women she discovered during her research.

“I was in my dorm room in Oxford and I found this online archive of Dr. May Chinn,” Brown said. “I played her audio, and it was so powerful to me. It felt like she was speaking to me about her journey, even though she was born 100 years before me and she had passed away. I felt that her story was also giving these women the power to depict their narrative in the way that they want to. Then it was kind of like following a breadcrumb trail because I didn’t know about Black women physicians, so I was constantly searching but not sure where to look. I found one that led me to another and then I started reaching out to different mentors like maybe there are more women in this archive or at this school… that’s how I found more Black women physicians over time.”

“It’s so interesting, because once I started doing my interviews for med school and particularly once I started school, I was exposed to so many more Black women physicians,” she said. “It was, like, I knew they were here. It was really awesome the first time I went to a conference with the National Medical Association (a Black physician organization). One woman that I was interviewing invited me to go to it. It was just amazing. I was in this room full of Black physicians, and I’m, like, “Wow, like I can do this!”

The research and work Brown put into crafting and sharing the stories of the dynamic women in her book has garnered a great deal of support. “Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians from The Civil War to the Twenty-First Century” was selected as one of Shondaland’s “Best Books of January 2023.”

“I’ve been in awe of the reception that I’ve received from my book,” Brown said. “When I first was trying to write it which was towards the end of my masters, I had these questions, like ‘Would anybody care about this?’ Partially, I think because I didn’t see it. As someone in my early 20s, I was the first person to do this, so if it hasn’t been done, maybe nobody thinks it’s really valuable. But then from just the process of getting a literary agent and a publisher to it coming out, it has been such an incredible reception. I’ve gotten so much support within the medical community, within the Black community, media attention and it’s just been so wonderful.” 

“Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians from The Civil War to the Twenty-First Century” is available everywhere books are sold. You can also purchase the book directly from Jasmine Brown’s website at: Be sure to follow her on IG @jasminebrownauthor.

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