For Charis, she felt blessed to grow up in a home where she watched her father work as a physician. Even at a young age, she was able to appreciate his love for his job and the positive impact that he made in the lives of others. She knew she wanted something similar for her life well before she decided to pursue medicine.
Both of her parents are her biggest inspiration. Her father sparked her journey into medicine while also instilling a spirit of gratitude and hard work. However, she developed her fierce determination from her late mother who taught her how to dream radically and lead unapologetically. As a black woman in medicine, her parents' support is what keeps her going.
With February being Black History Month, this year’s theme according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is focused on The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. Because we are all either parents or children, brothers or sisters, or aunts, uncles and cousins, family is truly at the heart of all our relationships and represents the essence of what binds us to others.
No single word is more illustrative of our humanity—of who we are—than the word “family.” -Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, ASALH National President
The Chambers Family offers a window into the African American experience of family-oriented stories, symbols, and concepts that inspire an individual and collective sense of pride. But though her medical dream actualized, Dr. Chambers still faces a multitude of daily challenges persevering through glaring racial inequalities among a mixture of identities.
We asked her to share with us insights into this:
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE AMOUNT OF REPRESENTATION AND DIVERSITY WITHIN THE MEDICAL FIELD?
CC: It’s simply not enough. With black people making up ~13% of the U. S. Population, having a 4-5% presence in the Physician pool is simply unacceptable. This number has been stagnant for the past several decades. The barriers that are preventing black students from entering and excelling in medical school are largely financial. This needs to change.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE PERSONALLY FACED BEING AN AFRICAN AMERICAN IN MEDICINE?
CC: I have faced everything from microaggressions to overt racism. I have been unfairly evaluated, underestimated, inappropriately addressed, and ignored. I’ve been confused for every possible clinical role, but the physician. I’ve gotten unsolicited comments on my hair and jokes about my African middle name (Nailah). Being black in the field of medicine is no easy feat. The biases that I have faced have challenged me, but have never deterred me. They made my commitment to succeed even stronger.
HOW HAS YOUR CHILDHOOD AND/OR FAMILY DYNAMIC INFLUENCED YOUR PATH INTO MEDICINE?
CC: I was blessed to grow up in a home where I watched my father work as a physician. Even at a young age, I was able to appreciate his love for his job and the positive impact that he made in the lives of others. I knew I wanted something similar for my life, well before I decided to pursue medicine.
WHO IN YOUR FAMILY IS YOUR INSPIRATION? WHY?
CC: My father is certainly my role model and he’s inspired me to work hard and to do so with a spirit of gratitude. However, it is truly my late mother who inspired me to dream radically and lead unapologetically. She taught me that I could enter any room and bring about positive change. As a woman in medicine, this quiet but fierce determination is what keeps me going.
DOES YOUR PARTNERSHIP/ MARRIAGE HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER TODAY?
CC: Oh yes! Having a supportive partner is huge. My partner is brilliant in ways that truly shock me, but will listen attentively to an Instagram live on Fibroids or Cervical health awareness just to learn more about what I do. He also never says my dreams are too big or too much. I love that about him.
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THE YOUNGER GENERATION OF AFRICAN AMERICANS PURSUING MEDICINE?
CC: I always say to identify your “why” and cling to it. The “why” of your pursuit in medicine will ground you on days when you feel unsure, refocus you on days when you lose your way, push you on days when you feel like giving up.
AFTER ALL THAT HAS TRANSPIRED THIS PAST YEAR, WHAT DOES BLACK HISTORY MONTH MEAN TO YOU AS A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL?
CC: After this past year, Black History Month is a time to celebrate, reflect, and recommit. It’s a time to celebrate the barriers that are being broken, like having a black woman as Vice President of the United States. It’s a time to reflect on those who sacrificed and lost so much while serving on the frontlines during this pandemic. It’s a time to recommit to elevating and empowering each other so the challenges of today can become tomorrow’s victories. That’s what black history month means to me this year.