By Josephine Reid
On Black Women's Equal Pay Day, we are thrilled to share this intimate and raw conversation about Dr. Ashe's experience as a Black female doctor and her answer to financial freedom for women.
By the year 2025, what significant changes would you like to see specifically for African American female doctors and the medical community in the U.S.?
We need more access. Black and Brown women definitely have less access to quality health care facilities, especially education and all of those things. I would like to see an initiative for more access for people of color to get the care that we need. So that if you do need a biopsy or a mammogram, you don't have to wait three months to get it - or have to wait to get results or a diagnosis at a later stage.
There also needs to be more confidence in the medical community. Even if [a patient] has the same education level, same income, studies show that there is a bias in the way that Black and Brown people are treated, and they don't get the same care as their White counterparts.
With that said, the equality is necessary on the physician and on the patient's side.
I also think that more women of color in medicine is necessary, because, in turn, the quality of care will increase as well with that. You'll be more likely to think of more things and have a better understanding of cultural context while being treated, and you may have more confidence in your provider if they can relate to you more.
What was one specific burden as a woman of color in the medical field during your residency that stands out in your mind?
One specific burden I can think of is your credentials being questioned at every hand. An example of this is the young Black female physician [Dr. Tamika Cross] on the Delta flight who had her credentials questioned when they didn't believe she was a doctor. This went viral and there was such a strong reaction to this because so many of us could relate!
I've had my white coat on, a badge (they have to give doctors an extra badge that says “Doctor”), and patients will say they haven't seen a doctor, not realizing I just left the room. I have often been mistaken for the nurse instead of the physician. Even with me being six years out of the residency this has been going on, making it a total of 13/14 years of this scenario.
It was very daunting during my residency and still remains very true today, which becomes very exhausting, with people questioning your judgment and credentials, solely based on the fact that you're a young Black female. It's more typical people will believe in an older White male.
Can you name a career triumph, small or large that gave you that push to carry on with more confidence?
Starting and maintaining my own business, Be Well, has given me a lot of leeway and encouragement. One, because I've gotten to design the practice and my life the way I've wanted to design it. I have control over my schedule, the way I practice medicine; really makes me re-live why I decided to be a doctor in the first place.
[Having my own business] also helps with the pay discrepancy as well. Once you start your own business, you're not going to accept less than you're worth. There is a huge discrepancy between what men and women make, I believe on average male doctors make about 90,000 dollars more. Same training, same work, and women are still offered less.
So with having my own practice, I am able to never take less than I'm willing to accept. Having my own business gives me the ability for me to say, “I'll pass.” The business has helped me be able to shape my own future.
What is your word of wisdom to the young Black women out there that may be weary in attempting to balance a medical career, family, plus other aspirations?
I want women of color to be empowered to create their own financial opportunities and to seek out the compensation they deserve. We have one of the best talent pool in the world. We have proven ourselves - women in general, especially Black women that not only can we do it but we can excel in it, and that's in medicine and across the board.
But we are undervalued so much. We have great ideas and a lot of times they're being shut down, whether it be fear or other people's doubt. I would just encourage that we go ahead and seek what you are passionate about and what you're dreaming about.
It's also always important to negotiate. I think one of the issues that were so prevalent in medicine is that there weren't a lot of mentors. You didn't really know how much you should be asking for and how much you should be making. This is something that should be looked up, researched and negotiated. Don't just accept the first thing that's offered to you.
There are going to be times when you don't want to have those difficult conversations, you don't want to work an extra job or shift, and when you feel like giving up because it's frustrating, more difficult than you ever imagined and your vision seems far away. But don't give up, keep going and you'll be reminded along the way, as to why you started in the first place.
Who has been or is a role model within your profession?
I don't have one specific role model that I look up to when it comes to running my own business in medicine, but rather people that I look up to as far as being a good doctor, both men, and women, that help shape the way that I treat patients and the way I look at medicine.
A lot of them are physicians of color because I trained in D.C. and was afforded that opportunity [to work with physicians of color]. But in medical school in Philly, there may have been only one mentor of color. I have had a lot of immigrant physicians as mentors as well, which is why things like the Muslim ban affected me so much.
Because I think about all the physicians that have helped shape me and gone through this journey with me. A lot of them are Muslim, a lot of them are not from this country, and it hurts because they just want to contribute to the world and contribute to making people's lives better.
What actions or steps do you hope to take to help reach the closing of the pay gap and or improved workplace morale for African American women in your profession and even beyond?
I think knowing how much money you should make and not being afraid to discuss it. This is one of the ways to close the gap. Because if you don't know that you're being underpaid, or how much you should be paid, then there's automatically going to be a gap. We need male partners in this too.
The increase in education is also important as you strive to go higher so we can break more of those ceilings. We need more female CEO's because then they would be doing the hiring.
Earlier this year, Dr. Ashe appeared in The Hill to promote Equal Pay Day.