Reflecting on Triple Board Intern Year: Dr. Russell Ledet Says, "I Just Need You to See Me For Me"

by Staff Writer
July 26, 2023 at 9:05 AM UTC

On March 18, 2022, a phrase echoed among the sea of freshly graduated medical students, “I’m proud of you, Black man.”

Amidst the elated cheers of those embarking on various medical paths ranging from internal medicine to orthopedic surgery and dermatology, my own journey into a Triple Board Residency was announced. Specializing in pediatrics, adult psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry, I, alongside thousands of new physicians, packed our lives up and moved to start our intern year.

In the medical field, intern year signifies a rite of passage, a year of accelerated learning, personal growth, and professional evolution. As an advocate for medical education and diversity, I chose to chronicle my journey through my Instagram account, @drrussellledet. My posts from June 2022 onwards offer an intimate view into my experiences as an intern and emphasize the significance of mentoring minority residents.

Before I even set foot on Indiana University’s campus, I met Dr. Gerard Hills, an African-American pediatric hematology/oncology fellow. He and his family introduced me to northern Indianapolis over dinner, and it was there he assured me with a sincere statement that has since stayed with me, “You are going to be okay, I will see to it.” I can’t fully convey how genuine his words felt, but they rang true throughout my intern year, and in retrospect, encapsulated the essence of mentorship that was crucial to my success.

Halfway through my first rotation in pediatric hematology and oncology, I faced a particularly challenging day. An endearing patient I had grown close to was nearing their end. The bond I had formed with them and their family was profound; they would wait for my evening rounds during my call nights. One evening, I found myself needing to unload the emotional weight of the day. Recognizing the importance of addressing these feelings to maintain my clinical judgment, I turned to Dr. Hills. His understanding and empathetic response to my emotional outpouring helped me regain my composure and approach the next day with a clear mind.

You may wonder what this narrative has to do with racial concordance in mentorship. My mentors taught me more than medical science; they instilled in me the art of resilience. They highlighted the strides we’ve made as a community, the barriers we’ve shattered, and the voices we’ve amplified in our fight for inclusivity in medicine. They underscored the transformative power of representation–the profound impact a person of color in a position of authority can have on a young, budding physician like myself.

Mentoring minority residents is of utmost importance. The medical field is fraught with disparities in patient care, and minority physicians often better understand the unique challenges faced by underrepresented patient populations. Through mentorship, we can equip minority residents with the necessary skills and understanding to bridge these gaps, thereby diversifying the physician workforce and improving patient care for all communities.

I am grateful for the countless conversations and frequent check-ins with my program director, Dr. Rachel Yoder, a fellow Triple Boarder and an exceptional leader. Her nuanced understanding of my unique position as the first African-American male Triple Board Resident at Indiana University was invaluable.

Lastly, a testament to the reach of mentorship was interactions I had after a presentation I had given to Riley Children’s Hospital. I had stressed the importance of cultural sensitivity in mentorship, suggesting visits to minority-owned restaurants as a means to better understand our experiences. In response, Drs. Corey Showalter and Daniel Pino, both pediatricians, joined me at Yaso’s Jamaican Grill, a local eatery. The experience was a testament to the power of mentorship and its ability to transcend professional boundaries. The fact that we broke bread with Bob Marley’s music playing in the background, while beef patties, oxtail, rice, beans, and plantains were spread out before us conveyed a sentiment that words cannot adequately express.

“Dr. Ledet’s personal lifetime experiences and background are very similar to those of many of the patients he sees, and I think that helps him relate to them and their families and the challenges they face,” said Thomas Klausmeier, MD, the continuity clinic supervisor and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at IU School of Medicine. “Not only does this make him more understanding of the roadblocks these families have in obtaining medical care, following through with medical recommendations and making lifestyle changes necessary to optimize health, but he also serves as a positive inspirational role model for these kids. His advocacy will help us, as a medical system, improve the care these kids receive.”

TK, as we affectionately call him, has been an amazing teacher, but more importantly, he’s always allowed me to bring “RJ” to the clinic, and my patients love him for allowing my personality to be a component of my practice.

I want to clearly state that Drs. Yoder, Pino, Showalter, Klausmeier, and many others may not resemble me, but they don’t overlook my individuality either. That’s the crux of the matter. They don’t pretend that my external appearance to the world is irrelevant. At the same time, they are assisting me in becoming a better version of who I already am.

Looking back, my intern year has been a transformative journey, marked by unwavering support from my mentors. It has emphasized the importance of mentorship and representation in medicine, particularly for minority residents. As I move forward, I am committed to mentoring others, using this tool to foster understanding, and shape a more equitable medical field.

I stand on the cusp of a new chapter in my medical journey, dedicated to carrying the torch of mentorship to ease the path for the next generation of minority doctors. In their success lies the promise of a healthcare system that is more inclusive, more understanding, and ultimately, more effective.

Russell J. Ledet, MD, PhD, MBA is currently a Triple Board Resident at the University of Indiana School of Medicine, and he is co-founder and president of The 15 White Coats, and a U.S. Navy veteran. 

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