Extensive research into the well-being of Black women at medical schools has earned recognition for an assistant dean for Student Affairs at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

OUWB assistant dean wins Oakland University award for Outstanding Dissertation
Berkley Browne
Berkley Browne, Ph.D.

Extensive research into the well-being of Black women at medical schools has earned recognition for an assistant dean for Student Affairs at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

Berkley Browne, Ph.D., received an Outstanding Dissertation (non-STEM) award from Oakland University. Her dissertation was “Stethoscopes, Sutures, and Sister Outsiders: Black Women’s Experiences of Well-Being at White Hegemonic Medical Schools.”

The purpose of the research was to explore how Black women medical students experience well-being while attending White hegemonic medical schools in the Midwest section of the U.S.

“There wasn’t anything out there that looked specifically at the well-being, or wellness, issues, needs, or priorities, of Black women who are in medical school,” she said.

Browne’s research consisted of five interviews done with participants from five schools in the Midwest region. A total of 37 people participated. The work was done over the course of about a year, said Browne. Browne did not identify the participating schools.

The primary findings largely centered on the issues of mentorship and representation.

Specifically, the research indicates leaders “must acknowledge and identify the specific ways in which their schools reflect White hegemonic norms to the detriment of all learners.”

Additionally, academic medicine must recognize the integrated relations between professional development and personal identity.

“The vision of who a physician is, or should be, must take into account learners’ gender, racial, and other identities,” wrote Browne. “Medical school leaders must take care not to put learners in a position where they must choose between who they are and becoming a physician.”

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Further, according to her research, medical schools must focus on “transformational change frameworks” with regard to development of curricula and non-curricular student programming.

“One of the things that I’ve thought a lot about since I finished was the importance of mentorship, and what it looks like to develop wellness programming that’s truly inclusive,” she said.

“Schools have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to make sure they have a diversity of mentors available,” she said.

Browne said it’s important to note that OUWB has several initiatives already addressing the needs identified in her dissertation.

She pointed to the school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and the Diversity Champion program as just two examples.

“I’ve been really encouraged and pleased to see that OUWB already has a number of things in place and we’re moving in a way already that addresses some of the issues that came up in my research,” she said.  

Browne earned her Ph.D. in 2020, but the awards were postponed a year due to COVID-19.

According to the Oakland University website, the dissertation awards are designed to “acknowledge the critical importance of producing quality dissertations and thesis.”

“The intent of the award is to showcase excellence in graduate work, and to partially defray the cost of producing an outstanding document,” the website states.

Faculty members choose one STEM and one non-STEM dissertation or thesis for this annual award. Recipients receive $1,000 for a Ph.D. dissertation, and $750 for a master’s thesis.

Other Outstanding Dissertation Award recipients for 2020 were Mingyuan Tao, Ph.D., for “Fuel Evaluation and Screening for Advanced Combustion Engines” and Zhixin Lun, Ph.D., for “Some Contribution to Multivariate Non-normality: Simulation, Computations and Missing Data Imputation.”

Browne’s dissertation was the only non-STEM award for the year.

“It’s extremely humbling,” said Brown. “I’m super grateful. The blood, sweat, and tears that go into a dissertation are all worth it in and of themselves, but it’s a huge honor to then also have my work recognized by university leadership and by the faculty of the university.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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