LOS ANGELES — As he walks the halls of King-Drew Magnet High School, 17-year-old senior Dontè Lewis proudly wears scrubs personalized with his name.
It’s one way he’s manifesting his future career in medicine.
“It prepares us for the uniformity that the hospitals like because everyone wears scrubs in the hospitals," Dontè said. "It develops a habit.”
From the age of 10, Dontè has known he would one day become the first doctor in his family.
He said it was seeing his grandmother fight an advanced stage cancer that gave him the drive.
“I want to become a doctor because I want to change the state of medicine that we’re at, especially as a Black person," he said. "I know that Black people fear doctors. I’ll let them know that doctors are here to help and heal them.”
Dontè attends one of the few LAUSD high schools for medicine and science — King-Drew Magnet — and is already learning basic patient care techniques preparing him for college and eventually medical school.
King-Drew Principal Reginald Brookens says the school has a 100% graduation rate and sends the most African-American students to University of California schools out of any other high school in California.
Overall, LAUSD's graduation rate is close to 81%. Prior to the pandemic, Blacks and Latinos had the lowest graduation rates in LA County.
King-Drew students like Dontè are working against the odds.
A 2021 study from the New England Journal of Medicine analyzed four decades of medical school enrollment.
While the percentage of white and Asian women increased substantially, the enrollment of Black and Hispanic women has increased only moderately, and the number of Black male medical students declined to 2.9% in 2019.
Pulmonary critical care physician Dr. Dale Okorodudu started his organization Black Men in White Coats in 2013 to get more young men of color interested in medicine.
He’s found the reason fewer Black men are going to medical school is simply because they don’t realize it’s an option.
“I’ll talk to kids, and they’ll tell you every other job but doctor won’t come up on that list for these kids," Okorodudu said. "They literally don’t know or haven't thought about becoming a doctor. The problem is many of them don’t even go see the doctor.”
Okorodudu says it’s important for more Black men to study medicine because research shows Black male patients are more likely to follow preventative health recommendations from a Black male doctor.
After all, there’s power in perception.
“I believe it’s very important for you to learn from people that look like you because you just gain an instantaneous connection and realize if they can do it, so can you," Dontè said.