Black History Month 2020: Fatima Cody Stanford is a trailblazer for equity in medicine

BOSTON — Obesity medicine physician Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford gets up before 6 a.m. every day.

The scientist, diversity and inclusion specialist, and fitness enthusiast says, if she’s going to keep her patients accountable, they can do the same with her.

“As soon as I finish…doing virtual visits…[patients] of course ask me, ‘Did you work out today?’ and I say, ‘I absolutely did,'" explains Cody Stanford.

The Mass. General Hospital endocrinologist is equally dedicated to making sure her patients have access to other doctors of color. Cody Stanford says she wanted to be a doctor since she was 3 years old. Today, she calls her patients her “family in medicine.”

Cody Stanford is also the vice-chair of the minority affairs section of the American Medical Association. She says the AMA is seeing a decline in African-American male doctors. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges fewer black men entered medical school in 2014 than in 1978. The cause, according to the research: unequal K-12 opportunities, the absence of mentors, lack of financial resources and negative public perceptions of black men.

Cody Stanford says she experienced similar challenges.

“There were times along the path, where I was told that I was not good enough,” she says. “Despite the fact that I was the valedictorian of my high school class, had $1.8 million in scholarship offers to colleges etc., I was still told it was not my place.”

Even after getting advanced degrees in medicine, public health and a Congressional Gold Medal from the U.S. Congress, Cody Stanford found her credentials questioned by attendants on a Delta flight, after she stabilized a fellow passenger having a medical incident.

“When I think about, like, the Delta Airlines experience, that was one of many instances of adversity that you face when people challenge the notion of who you are. You can do as many degrees as you want, but people will traditionally see me as a black woman and presume that I must not be in a role of any importance,” she said.

Whether it’s mentoring, treating patients, or publishing research, Cody Stanford says she’s always pushing to make sure someone else has a seat at the table.

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” she said. “I feel like I’ve been tasked to do this work at this particular time. I’m going to continue to drive forward. I’m going to continue to make sure I’m bringing people up.”

Related Black History Month stories:

Sherley Bretous creates opportunity, representation for students of color in STEM

Leon Noel cracks the code for economic opportunity in communities of color

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond fights climate change with fellowship