We Spoke To A Young Black Doctor About What Inspired Him To Become One Of The 5% In Medicine

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
A Young Doctor Speaks About His Journey

I remember the first time I met Daneil Molina-Mangaroo: he was wearing a green polo and black pants, the colors of his school uniform. We were 13 years old going to a middle school in the Bronx in New York City. He was in the Math and Science section of our middle school, and although we were in different sections of the school, I would meet him through our after-school program. At the time, he was in the honors class prepping to take the NYC regents, which is usually taken by high schoolers. It was undeniable: he was a really smart kid and had an amazing work ethic.

Daneil's hard work in middle school would eventually pay off, as he passed the regents with flying colors and tested into prestigious high schools, like Bronx Science, but ultimately chose to go to a private high school in Manhattan on a full-ride scholarship. During high school, he got really good grades, started a STEM club, and was actively involved in sports. Soon enough, he’d receive the best news a teenager could ask for: a full ride to Cornell University. 

It was delightful news: a young Black man from the Bronx, a child of Caribbean immigrants, and the first person in his family to go to college was going to a prestigious university on a full-ride scholarship. He would eventually go on to Albany medical school and then get matched to one of the best residency programs in NYC. 

In the midst of his journey to becoming a doctor, Daneil and I would fall in love and get married. We'd travel together and get a puppy together. As someone who knows him the best, Daneil is definitely someone people should know more about. 

In the United States, only 5% of doctors are Black.

Growing up, Daneil would always tell me about how the media always portrayed Black male success through music or sports, nothing else. It's hard to imagine what you can become without representation in the field.

But Daneil, exuding Black excellence, was able to envision a life as a doctor nonetheless.

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YourTango spoke exclusively with Daneil exclusively on his experience becoming a doctor at 26 and the challenges he's faced thus far.

I remember when I met you, you were in so many STEM programs, honors classes and studied hard. Growing up, what inspired you to work as hard as you did?

My mom. I saw how hard she worked to provide for us. She always told me education was my way forward. I took that to heart and wanted to make her proud. I wanted her to see that her hard work wasn’t for nothing. We were also low-income, so I wanted better opportunities in life, and being in school opened doors for me that wouldn’t open otherwise. 

When did you realize you wanted to become a doctor? What or who inspired you?

Back when I first started college. I knew I was good at the sciences, and I originally thought I’d go the engineering route, but what got me thinking about medicine was the first round of pre-med classes in college. Then I realized how much I enjoyed the medicine part of sciences versus other aspects. Plus I wanted to help people and my mom was in the health field (she’s a home health aide). So I figured medicine was the way to go. 

What kept you motivated to get through those 4 challenging years of medical school?

It’s something that a lot of doctors innately have: the desire to help people. Med school has the opportunity to weed people out because it’s just that hard. But I had an innate drive to face those challenges and help people. Of course, I have a soft spot for underserved populations, but my mantra is I help anyone that walks through those doors. That’s why I became an emergency medicine physician. It doesn’t really matter who a person is, their background, or what they’ve done. That person is there because they need help and I'm able to give that to them.

What has the first year of residency been like for you?

Hard. It’s been a roller coaster. It’s amazing to finally be doing what I’ve been trained to do. It’s surreal that I’m a doctor and that I get to help all these people but it’s also been difficult. It’s a whole different expectation — one day you're a med student and the next day you're a doctor, so it’s a big change. It’s rewarding but also very difficult. I still have a lot to learn.

What does diversity look like in your residency program and in the medical field in general? Do you feel like it could improve? And if so, how?

I’m the only Black male in my year. There’s one Black female. There’s a lot of East and South Asians. Of course, the diversity could use work, but it’s also not the least diverse place I’ve been in. But it’s definitely noticeable at times. My program especially tries to strive towards diversity — there could be more, but I don’t feel out of place. But again, I’m too busy working so I rarely notice it. 

As for how things could improve, It could start with more opportunities for POC to get into medicine and receive that training. Maybe if there are better opportunities that help POC get into medical school, then there’d be more diversity. 

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You just mentioned being the only Black male in your class, what’s your provider-patient experience been like so far? 

On the positive side, when I see Black patients, they take notice and they always tell me how they like to see someone like them in the position I’m in and that they feel comfortable with me. I’m glad to see that I can make people who look like me comfortable and have something to aspire to. 

Just being Black in general, though, you inevitably have patients who might make assumptions about you, who might undermine your knowledge, or may call you slurs. I’ve definitely had a patient call me a racial slur or undermine my knowledge. I’ve also had a patient assume that I came from Africa and must know what Africa looks like. So I’ve had a few unfortunate things happen here and there. 

How do you overcome those challenges?

I've already put so much hard work into medical school and it’s something I really want, so I find a way to persevere. When you find your calling you do everything to answer it. Self-care is important as well. I try to unwind. I have my wife. Our home. And I have anime and video games. That helps.  

Name a specific time that you felt proud to be a doctor.

Honestly, anytime I have a patient who comes in with a problem and then they leave smiling and thanking me, I feel proud. It’s a hard job but it feels great to make a difference in someone’s life when they’re at their lowest, even if it’s just for a few hours or one day. Everyday I do that I’m proud, and I think I’ll feel that way for a long time, which is why I work so hard. 

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What advice do you have for other young, BIPOC folks who are aspiring to become a doctor?

This road is full of many difficult challenges, but if it’s what you really want, it’s worth it in the end. Every day I feel proud to do what I do and I feel happy. It’s hard work, but it’s not something above anyone. And that kind of representation is good; we need more BIPOC folks in this field. We can only better serve our communities the more diverse the doctors are. Stay the course. You can do it.

Angelique Beluso is a sex educator and writer who covers feminism, pop culture and relationship topics. Follow her @AngeliqueBeluso.