Diversity, Equality & Inclusion: Much More Than a Kind Gesture


A cultural connection with my surgeon meant everything to me.

Let me tell you why Black patients should have access to more Black doctors. Last June, I underwent surgery to remove osteomata (benign tumors) from my forehead and a portion of my nose. I'd previously undergone surgery to have similar growths removed, but they had returned in locations where excision would be more challenging. Before undergoing the procedure, I consulted with several white male surgeons, who told me they would need to open an incision from ear to ear. I didn't feel comfortable with that option, especially because I was planning on getting married soon and didn't want the scars to ruin the day. My frustration mounted, and I decided to put off the surgery until after the wedding.

When I resumed my search for a surgeon, I noticed a new physician in town: Jewel ?Greywoode, MD, an otolaryngologist at Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates. He's Black, which, honestly, was an initial draw. Here was a surgeon who looked like me, who I thought would understand my needs in a way the previous white surgeons could not.

My intuition proved correct — I felt an immediate connection with Dr. Greywoode. I told him what the other surgeons had recommended, and he said my hair would never grow back over such a severe incision. He instead offered a more minimally invasive approach — three small incisions behind my hairline that would be unseen after my hair grew back, which he assured me it would. I didn't have to tell him that preserving my hair was extremely important to me. He already knew it was a major concern because of his cultural competence.

I wear my hair completely natural. It's big and curly, so the night before my surgery, I washed and detangled it, and separated it into a couple braids around the area where Dr. Greywoode would be operating. In the pre-op bay on the day of the procedure, as I was speaking with Dr. Greywoode about his plans for the surgery, I offered to move more hair out of the way. He assured me I could leave it the way it was.

After the procedure, while I was in recovery, a couple Black nurses helped me get changed and prepared me for discharge. I arrived home still groggy, and drifted in and out of sleep while under the loving care of my husband and mother. Two days later, when I removed the head wraps to clean my incision, we saw that my hair had been neatly braided away from the incision. My mom commented that the braids didn't look like my work and I assumed the Black nurses had put them in when I was still anesthetized. I thought it was a kind and sweet gesture. The braids made cleaning the incision much easier — I never had to worry about my hair getting in the way throughout my recovery.

During my follow-up appointment with Dr. Greywoode, he said, "You redid your hair. I hope my braids weren't too bad." I was shocked to learn he was the one who put them in, and also found out he knew how to braid my hair because he does the same for his young daughters at home. Dr. Greywoode also told me he closed my incision with staples, which meant he didn't have to cut my hair while removing them.

It was a different experience to not have to explain myself to Dr. Greywoode.

It was an emotional experience. I'm the oldest of four daughters and remember my father braiding my hair. Natural hair is not easy to manage. The fact that Dr. Greywoode took the time and care during surgery to place the braids himself, so my hair wouldn't be a burden during my recovery, says a lot about him as a healthcare provider.

I'm thrilled with how the surgery turned out and with my experience with Dr. Greywoode. His approach to the procedure matched my clinical needs and cultural background without us having to talk about it. He removed the burden of having to take care of my natural hair on my own without making me feel self-conscious about it.

Twitter responds

Late one night, I tweeted about my experience with Dr. Greywoode, describing how he braided my hair and made me feel seen and valued as a Black woman. When I woke up the next morning, my phone had exploded with responses to the tweet, which had gone viral. The reaction was amazing — and eye-opening. Numerous people thanked me, saying they never considered intentionally seeking out Black providers who understand their culture and background. They told me they'd do that moving forward so they could receive the same compassionate care and have the same experience I had. Many asked: Where do I start? How do I find providers who look like me?

I work in a large, diverse healthcare system, so it's easy for me to navigate the provider choices to find Black physicians. However, I know it's difficult and overwhelming for other Black people, who might be limited in their choices by insurance carriers or geographical locations.

Black patients need to take ownership in their care, even if they're in communities without a lot of Black physicians. They have the right to be treated by providers who make them feel comfortable, who listen to them, who understand them and make them feel valued. Everyone, regardless of race, has the right to be comfortable with whoever is providing their care. OSM

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