LaVonne Hairston, MD, FACOG
Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Eastern Virginia Medical
School University Proton Therapy Institute
Across the United States, just 5.4 percent of physicians are Black – despite the fact that African Americans make up about 13 percent of the country’s total population. Less than 3 percent of doctors are Black women.
Even more troubling, that proportion has changed little since 1900, as revealed in figures from a 2021 study out of the University of California, Los Angeles.
T.I.M.E.4Her is working to change that story.
The nonprofit, incorporated in 2017, aims to Teach, Inspire, Mentor and Encourage young women of color to pursue careers in medicine. By increasing diversity among physicians, the organization hopes to help reduce troubling health disparities and encourage wellness and trust in underrepresented communities.
“It’s not uncommon for people to go their entire lives without ever seeing a Black physician, which is really unfortunate,” says Dr. LaVonne Hairston, an OB/GYN and founder of T.I.M.E.4Her. “We want to empower young Black women to visualize themselves in that role and believe they can do it. Representation is important because it’s hard to be what you can’t see.”
T.I.M.E.4Her connects students throughout Virginia with Black female physicians in their field of interest for mentorship, a program called DoctHER Loading. Once paired, mentors and mentees can develop their own relationship to discuss dreams, challenges and common pitfalls on the road to becoming a doctor.
“People think that you have to be perfect to get into medical school,” Dr. Hairston relates. “You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be human. Sometimes, a bit of support and loving guidance is what you most need to take that next step.”
T.I.M.E.4Her currently has 12 mentors from multiple specialties, with plans of continuously growing that roster. Additionally, the nonprofit has created a fund to help its mentees cover medical school application fees and travel expenses for admission interviews.
T.I.M.E.4Her is also committed to community education, promoting messages of positivity and giving people the knowledge that they need to lead healthier lives.
Along with virtual seminars and roundtable conversations on careers in medicine, the organization has run social media campaigns to highlight successful Black women in medicine, discuss possible solutions to health inequities, and encourage self-care, wellness and preventive health practices such as annual physicals, prenatal care and cancer screenings.
Distrust of the medical system is common in minority communities due to years of discriminatory, unethical, and even abusive practices in the past. Multiple studies have shown patients often feel more comfortable confiding in a physician of a similar race or ethnicity.
Health disparities also linger in many areas of medicine. Outside of genetics, access to quality health care, education level, economic stability, access to nutritious foods, environmental conditions, language barriers and health behaviors are all factors.
For example, Black women are three times more likely than Caucasian women to die during pregnancy or within a year of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Black people have higher rates of dangerous chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, people of color have been consistently more at risk both of getting sick and dying.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I believe we can change the narrative,” Dr. Hairston says. “If T.I.M.E.4Her can add even one or two Black women to our physician ranks, we’ve started to make a difference.”