Opinion: Nobody Told Me I Could Be a Doctor

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Dr. Courtney Washington — otherwise known as 'Dr. Nola Knows' — is a board-certified family medicine physician.

For me, returning home wasn’t just a nostalgic dream. It was the ultimate goal. I wanted to give back to the community I grew up in and to pay homage to the people who raised me. 

It seemed simple:  Medical school. Residency program. Home sweet home.  

As the first physician and second college graduate in my family, the expectations were high, not placed by relatives, but by me. It’s no secret that Black women, especially in medical fields and other male-dominated professions, have to go through unique ordeals to overcome the disadvantaged starting position we are placed in. Nobody expects a Black girl to want to be a physician. In fact, in 2021, Black women made up only 9% of the enrollment in medical school and only 2% of the physician workforce in the U.S. Owning a private practice meant rising above all odds. 

And so I did.

I did it for me, my family and all those people seeking physicians who understand their experiences without judgment.

But being inspired by my childhood pediatrician, who I remember wearing her afro so proudly, was not an actual plan. Dreams are dreams, but then I knew I had to just do it. 

I wanted to prepare for success, but I didn’t know what success looked like. Coming back home to the warmth of my community in New Orleans was challenging and eye-opening.

I am “Dr. NOLA Knows” on social media, but I was another statistic before opening my private practice, Fleur-De-Lis Primary Care Clinic. My passion for preventing and reversing medical conditions was suddenly dimmed. From little access to capital and investors to diverse business support and limited representation in the medical field, I was once more challenged by unexpected obstacles. 

I want to be the kind of doctor I would like to have caring for my family. Still, just like most businesswomen, who, according to the National Women’s Business Council, are less likely to receive business loans than men, I relied on personal savings, credit cards and hope to open my practice.

My private practice flourished, but with health insurance claims, student loan payments and slow cash flow, it was challenging. My only hope was to cross paths with people I could trust. My dream was personal, and it needed to be for my support team. My priority had always been personalized care for my patients, so developing a strategic allyship with a banker to guide me toward entrepreneurial success was vital. 

Medical school doesn’t teach business or finances, but I understood my needs. After finally opening my clinic and wanting to position my practice as a unique alternative to other medical doctors, it was clear I needed the support of personalized banking services and a true business partner like Hancock Whitney. While other financial institutions didn’t know my name, my new banking family invested in and supported my dreams and goals. Materializing my mission of serving the NOLA community through preventative care depended on sound advice from experts equally passionate about serving. While health professionals play an unparalleled role in the collective well-being of my community, there is always someone working behind the scenes for New Orleans residents. And we deserve that. 

We deserve a prosperous city. We deserve to be seen and treated as essential parts of a body system that, if not treated holistically, cannot itself prevent and reverse symptoms. We deserve banking institutions that serve tirelessly to assist small businesses in New Orleans to accelerate growth and equal opportunities. We are a body; just like in osteopathic medicine, interventions that serve one part must also serve the others. 

During Small Business Month, I look back at the struggles and successes, and I am reminded of the importance of persistence and the power of a supportive community, but more than anything, the value of a holistic team. My mission is to inspire young entrepreneurs to find their passion and look tirelessly for a team of experts to help them navigate the challenges of becoming a business owner. The American Dream is possible when you have the right people by your side. We are in this together; health and wealth are possible.

Dr. Courtney Washington — otherwise known as ‘Dr. Nola Knows’ — is a board-certified family medicine physician. She wrote this op-ed in honor of National Small Business Month in May. Click here to learn more.

Categories: Guest Blog, Healthcare, Today’s Business News