Because it will take a village to raise the next generation of Black doctors.

Our Origin Story


On November 12, 2021, when one from an informal Twitter community of Black physicians sounded the alarm for anyone available to help with their mentee in trouble, several of us answered the call. Two days later, we met virtually with Dr. Gislaine Bernabe.

Born in Haiti, Dr. Bernabe immigrated to the US as a child. She is a US citizen but returned to the Caribbean for medical school for financial reasons and is the first in her family to graduate from college and medical school. On July 1, 2021, she started working as an intern physician in a newly formed family medicine residency program at a for-profit hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was one of only two international medical graduates and the only Black intern among her peers across three new training programs.

Although the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certified her as ready to enter US training programs, she found her entire career in jeopardy within the first month of her training. Instead of the program applying for her license to practice as they did all their other trainees, program leadership decided to create a narrative that she was unprofessional and incompetent and placed her on a Performance Improvement Plan 3 weeks into her internship—an action essentially unheard of so early in training. Though she exceeded all required tasks, she was placed on a Remediation Plan in December 2021 and ultimately terminated on January 14, 2022, for failing to meet 5 of 6 competency areas without communicating specific reasons.

Dr. Bernabe with her 11 year-old twin daughters (faces blurred for their protection)

Since that November call to action, our small group met with Dr. Bernabe on multiple occasions, reviewed all of her receipts, joined her meeting to secure a local lawyer, crowd-funded the lawyer’s retainer fee, and facilitated finding her a new position through our networks and social media. Unfortunately, this meant starting the arduous intern year over—but she is THRIVING in her new program!

Not everyone is so lucky. The average medical student graduates with $240,000 of debt, but without a medical license and at least one year of residency training, one can not legally practice medicine. Black doctor-hopefuls are disproportionately affected. Only 5% of resident physicians in the US are Black, but 20% of dismissals from training programs. And there is no entity responsible for supporting or advocating for these individuals.

From the experience of witnessing Dr. Bernabe being harassed and gaslighted when she should have been allowed to focus on being an intern like her peers, we knew we needed to do more and that we would have to get organized to do so.

This is why Dr. Vanessa Grubbs founded Black Doc Village. Because there is power in numbers.

Bethanie Hines Photography

Vanessa Grubbs, MD, MPH President & Founder www.thenephrologist.com

Dr. Grubbs is a double board-certified internist and nephrologist. She completed undergraduate and medical degrees at Duke University and primary care residency at Highland General Hospital in Oakland, California. She went on to complete a masters in public health from University of California, Berkeley and general medicine clinical research and nephrology fellowships at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). After nephrology fellowship, she maintained a clinical practice and research program with a focus on palliative care for patients with end-stage kidney disease at San Francisco General Hospital for a decade. She is also a published author. Her book, HUNDREDS OF INTERLACED FINGERS: A Kidney Doctor’s Search for the Perfect Match (Amistad, 2017), tells her story of becoming a kidney donor, then nephrologist, and her experiences with ethical and controversial topics in nephrology. She is a leading voice in the fight to end race-based medicine and staunch patient advocate. She is a part-time primary care physician; a regular contributor to the California Health Care Foundation blog and her own blog at thenephrologist.com; produces relatable educational videos on her YouTube channel, Real Kidney Talk with The People’s Nephrologist; and is working on her next book projects.

“Speaking up always comes at a price — especially if you’re standing alone.  Several somebodies more senior should have your back.  We need trainees to get through the training AND we need their voices.  We have to support them.”

Qaali Hussein, MD, FACS
Founding Member

Dr. Hussein is a double board-certified trauma and acute care surgeon and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She received her medical degree from UTMB-Galveston and completed general surgery residency and critical care fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hussein is an outspoken and fierce advocate for equity in medicine.

As a hijabi Muslim woman who also had six children during her residency and fellowship training, Dr. Hussein uses her personal experiences with bias in the healthcare system to shed light on inequities women and underrepresented minority trainees and physicians continue to face as well as the impact the lack of diversity in medicine has on patient care. She is the founder and CEO of Defiance Academy, a professional development and leadership training platform dedicated to empowering underrepresented minorities to pursue, thrive, and advance in unwelcoming environments. Dr. Hussein is experienced in leading culture change in various health systems and is a proponent of change leadership and the application of process improvement principles to advocate for and implement culture change at a systems level.

“We speak a lot about the dearth of black docs & the leaky pipeline but not how academia pushes out the ones who actually made it to med school & beyond. Many URiM students/trainees suffer in silence due to a lack of support & the real threat of retaliation.”

Michelle Iarusso, JD
Secretary & Treasurer www.linkedin.com

Michelle Iarusso is a trial attorney who has been first or second chair in numerous trials and arbitrations. Her practice focuses on employment-related issues including employment discrimination and business litigation.

Recognized as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, Michelle has more than ten years of experience litigating and trying a variety of complex cases. She’s obtained great results for her clients because of her in-depth knowledge of the law, contracts and litigation strategy, tenacious spirit and her genuine care for her clients.

A graduate of UCLA School of Law, where she also clerked for the Los Angeles Public Defender’s office, she later served as a Fellow with the American Board of Trial Advocates with several law firms and as a Superior Court judge.

Michelle is the mother of two girls for whom she works to make the world a better and more fair place.

Because it will take a village to raise the next generation of Black doctors.

“I’ve worked with Drs. Grubbs, Hussein and Givens and have the utmost respect for the work they’re doing and believe deeply in this project.  Black trainees and physicians, reach out.  And the rest of us?  Make a difference — join the village today.

Imani McElroy, MD, MPH
Resident Physician
Department of Surgery
Massachusetts General Hospital 

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