If you ask a kid, any kid, to name a famous basketball player, you’re more than likely to see the kid light up with excitement, maybe dunk an imaginary b-ball and run off names with a smirk like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Jordan, even if they know the latter only by his sneakers. Ask the little one to name a singer: “Beyonce”, “Willow Smith”, “Nicki Minaj.” Now ask her to name a famous Black doctor.
If the year was 1989, she might say “Dr. Huxtable.” In 2013, you’ll hear crickets.
With the debut of Disney Junior’s animated Doc McStuffins last year, kids age 2-7 got to see a portrayal of a little Black girl aspiring to be a doctor. Not a singer. Not a reality TV star. Not a princess. But a doctor. And those aspirations were made even more of a possibility with the network’s introduction of real life African American women who dreamt of becoming and then became…doctors. The series inspired a group of female African American physicians to begin a “movement” they coined, “We Are Doc McStuffins.” Seeing a reflection of themselves in the Doc character and the opportunity to inspire young girls, the group grew to form the Artemis Medical Society, an organization of over 2500 female African American physicians and medical students representing 39 states and six countries. The organization’s mission is to serve, nurture and celebrate a global sisterhood of women physicians of color through mentoring, networking and advocacy.
In celebration of Black History Month, Disney Junior will air “We Are Doc McStuffins” interstitials, or shorts, featuring Doc McStuffins alongside three real life female African American physicians and founding members of the Artemis Medical Society: Dr. Myiesha Taylor, Dr. Aletha Maybank, and Dr. Naeemah Ghafur. The doctors will be featured sharing what their jobs entail, and saluting their heroes.
Dr. Taylor says, “Doc McStuffins is important to me because I am that little girl. And it’s not just me. My female friends who are physicians have all been talking about Doc. We love what she represents…We didn’t have Doc or anything close to her on television when we were growing up. Many of the cartoons we watched contained stereotypes regarding minorities that would never be aired today.”
She continues, “In 20 years we should see the first group of medical school graduates who will say their dream of becoming a doctor began when they saw their first telecast of Doc McStuffins. Then someone can write the story or thesis about the Doc McStuffins effect on healthcare. Won’t that be amazing?”
Indeed it will be. A typical Artemis member is likely to be between the ages of 26 and 40 years old. She is likely to have at least one child and her household income is between $125,000 and $400,000 per year. The segments the doctors filmed provide a kind of “reality television” for little girls, a reality where women are celebrated for promoting healthy habits and positive behavior; a balance to the reality TV we see today that oversells sex and cat fighting. It is a reality that enables children to answer when asked about a famous doctor, “Dr. Helen Dickens, Dr. Alexa Canady, Dr. Regina Benjamin.”
“It’s important that children see physicians that have backgrounds similar to theirs,” says Dr. Ghafur. “The percentage of African -American physicians in this country is so small (less than 3%). There were real voids that are beginning to be filled with the establishment of the Artemis Medical Society (a direct result of The We Are Doc Mc Stuffins Movement). Our presence in different types of media influence children (young and older) as well as their parents. If no one ever tells you that you are capable of something or you never see anyone that looks like you or is from a similar background as you making great accomplishments you might never believe that you can make the same thing happen.”
Dr. Maybank reminds us, “Doc McStuffins provides this wonderful opportunity for young black children to see, believe and eventually become a physician, however our goal in a society that truly values diversity is not a message that Black people can be doctors too but that rather ANYONE can become a doctor if that is your desire and you work hard for it.”
The shorts began airing on Disney Channel and Disney Junior on Friday, February 1 following a new Doc McStuffins Valentine’s Day themed episode and will air throughout the month of February.
Herina Ayot is a freelance writer in the New York Metropolitan area. Follow her on Twitter @ReeExperience.