Making an African American REI physician: a story of mentorship

This piece explores a personal journey of perseverance and mentorship to navigate the professional pipeline and become an academic leader in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

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VOLUME 116, ISSUE 2, P281-286


Michael A. Thomas, M.D. 


Few African American men graduating from medical school find a home as a provider in obstetrics and gynecology. This is a story of mentorship at every level of the medical pipeline and should serve as a primer on how to help future leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Read the full text here. 

Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility® is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders. 


Go to the profile of VIVIAN LEWIS
6 months ago

I thank the editors of Fertility and Sterility for highlighting the critical issue of lack of racial and ethnic diversity among reproductive endocrinologists.  As noted by Dr. Richard-Davis,  this has an impact on our students, residents and most importantly the patients we serve.  I particularly appreciated the personal essay from Dr. Thomas about his experiences as a medical student. Having been an African American member of the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty shortly after he graduated, I recall how few faculty of color there were in the entire institution. This made it extremely challenging (if not impossible) to be available or even visible to all of the medical students interested in our specialty.  As a faculty member I benefitted from the support of leaders like Drs. Spellacy and Dawood- realizing only years later that both were acting as mentors or sponsors who helped me launch a career in academic medicine.


His essay also cites conversations with several prominent physicians, whose comments and demeanor could be considered intimidating from the perspective of a medical student.  While Dr. Thomas was not deterred, these conversations should serve as an example of how microaggressions can play out in the academic workplace. Learning to understand the perspectives of others is a skill  that physicians have come to work on when it comes to our patients. It is just as vital in communicating with students and residents.  Most hospitals and medical schools now provide opportunities to learn about addressing bias in patient care; I encourage all physicians to consider applying the same lessons to medical education to promote diversity among the next generation of reproductive endocrinology and infertility physicians.


I agree with Dr Thomas’s final call for young scholars to seek out mentors who are different from them. I would add that being a mentor who welcomes mentees who are different is equally important.

Go to the profile of Alice Rhoton-Vlasak
4 months ago

Thank you for this wonderful story recounting your life of becoming an REI. It felt like a walk down memory lane, as you recalled many helpful and "famous"  individuals in our field who impacted your career and acted as mentors. It was one of my favorite articles for some time since it had such a personal touch. Like you Dr Thomas, I was influenced and brushed shoulders with some greats like Dr. McDonogh, Dr Spellacy who was my chair at USF, Dr Ory and Dumesic who directed my fellowship, Dr Ansbacher and Randolph from UM, Dr Davis who gave me a chance to be on the ASRM education committee, Dr Williams from UF,  and many others. It felt like living it over to go on your career journey. Your success is shared by everyone who watched your and supported you on your great career journey. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story with all of us!