Alameda Health System (AHS) anesthesiologist Dr. Bernard Nelson’s passion for pursuing a career in medicine was first sparked in high school when he went to a medical appointment and soon noticed that the physicians did not look like him nor did they reflect the diversity in the Vallejo community where he lived.
“Even as a young man, I will always remember how cold, rushed and transactional the experience with my doctors felt to me,” said Dr. Nelson. “None of them would make eye contact when speaking and it seemed obvious that they had already formed negative preconceptions about me, my race and my culture.”
As a result of that experience, Dr. Nelson promised himself that if he ever decided to pursue a career in medicine, he would do everything in his power to make sure that every patient regardless of race or socioeconomic status was treated with the dignity, respect and equitable health care they deserve.
Today, Dr. Nelson is living up to that promise not only as a respected anesthesiologist serving AHS’s diverse patient population but also by giving generously of his time as a mentor to college students enrolled in the HealthPATH Minority in Medicine & Science (MIMS) summer intern program in which he was an inaugural member while an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.
While at UC Berkeley, Dr. Nelson became a member of the inaugural MIMS cohort that began in 2007 and was comprised of just four other students. The first day of the program is one that he will never forget. He was presented with a white coat with his name embroidered on it and it was at that moment he shared that he truly felt like he was on the path to becoming a physician and fulfilling a dream.
Dr. Jocelyn Freeman Garrick, emergency medicine, one of the original architects of the MIMS program at AHS said, “AHS Physicians like Dr. Nelson play an invaluable role for students of color because they both inspire and enable them to see what’s possible in pursuing a career in health care.”
Dr. Freeman Garrick sees MIMS as one way to create opportunities for minority students in the community who do not have connections, opportunities or access to furthering their interest in the health care industry. “Ultimately, the program is one way we can ensure our physicians, clinicians and staff mirror the communities we serve.”
Dr. Nelson’s career has come full circle from mentee to mentor. He shared that one day he hopes that it will be commonplace to have a diverse workforce at all levels and whether a young person of color wants to be a physician or a chief executive officer it is seen not only as possible but realistic.
“All of the interns in the HealthPATH MIMS program remind me of myself 15 years ago when I first joined the program and was so inquisitive and eager to learn,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them become role models for the generations to follow.”
For more information on the MIMS program and how to become a mentor, visit the HealthPATH website.