How Race Impacts Black Women in Medicine and Their Fertility with guest Dr. Temeka Zore
I’m super excited to have Dr. Temeka Zore on today’s Egg Whisperer Show. She is joining me to talk about something that’s really important: how race impacts black women in medicine, their fertility, and what she is doing about it. Temeka is based in Northern California, and I am delighted to have her joining me today. We originally spoke in June of 2020, which was shortly after the death of George Floyd and the demonstrations that happened regarding his death.
Dr. Aimee: I’m so excited to have you on as a guest today. How have the events after the death of George Floyd have impacted you?
Dr. Temeka Zore: I feel like the past couple of weeks have been rough, they’re very emotional. I think they’re made more emotional because I have a son now who is 1 year old, he just turned one. Just thinking about him in that situation, or if this country is still where it is in 10, 15, or 20 years, what kind of conversations I have to have with my child.
It’s been a lot. It’s been emotional. Definitely even with my husband, he is a white male, so we’ve had a lot of conversations even before kids, and it’s been even more since all of this has happened.
Dr. Aimee: Right. Tell me about your background, your education, and your athletic accomplishments. There are so many.
Dr. Temeka Zore: Thank you. I was born in Louisiana, but raised in Indiana. I was very big into track and cross country in middle school and high school. I ended up getting a scholarship to the University of Texas to run track where I specialized in the 800 and the 4x400. Sports was a very big part of my life for most of my life growing up and I think has definitely shaped the person I have become. I am a highly driven, self-motivated person and I am constantly trying to find ways to improve myself and I think all of those qualities come from my athletic background.
From there, I was fortunate enough to receive a full scholarship to medical school at Indiana University. It was there that I met my, now husband, during our first year of medical school. We dated for about 3.5 years and then got married our second year of residency.
More about me is that I’m an OBGYN by training and board certified in that. I did my residency in Indiana at St. Vincent. Then I came out to California for my fellowship at UCLA and we have loved California and we have enjoyed taking advantage of everything that this state has to offer (pre-COVID!)
Dr. Aimee: What led you to become an OB GYN and more specifically, a fertility doctor?
Dr. Temeka Zore: With OB, it was luckily one of my first rotations. Once I started, I knew. I was one of those people where I tried to keep a super open mind. No other rotation could really match my experience with OB. I just loved the women’s health aspect of it. Being able to have the mix of surgery and clinic and to really follow a woman through her journey from adolescence up to adulthood. That really drew me to the field.
In my second year of residency was when we got exposure to fertility in our program. I think just seeing that mix of patients, the science was still very cutting edge, and it’s challenging. It will mentally challenge you.
It’s also just a fun field and I love the patients. I love what we get to do. It still has a good mix of clinic and surgery as well as cutting edge scientific advancements. Additionally, our procedures are all pretty quick so you can go back and forth throughout your day doing multiple different things. It’s a really great field and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
Dr. Aimee: I imagine with your background, as an athlete, you have your eye on the prize, you have a goal.
Dr. Temeka Zore: Yes. That is definitely true.
Dr. Aimee: That definitely helps. How has race affected you, both as a child and in your medical career?
Dr. Temeka Zore: I feel like it’s a conversation I’ve been having a lot, even with friends now. They always say the other kids don’t realize it and don’t recognize it. I shared my experience, even on Instagram, of my first experience of racism was at age 5. While we really hope that kids don’t know this, they do. They’re getting it from somewhere, because I feel like we are born very pure to love and learn to hate.
I was 5 and I was with this girl, I think we were fighting over a toy or something very silly. We were kind of going back and forth talking. Then she ended with, “At least I’m not black.” As a 5 year old, I just didn’t know where to go with that. I really clammed up. I was shocked.
Obviously, I went home and was crying to my mom, who was then crying to me about having to talk about this at the age of 5, “This is something you might hear throughout your life. It’s not fair, but that’s what it is.” I think right there it was you always have to try to do better. You’re going to have to kind of prove yourself in life to get where you want to get.
That was instilled in me at a very young age. I think that also plays a big factor into my drive to just want to succeed.
Dr. Aimee: What about during your medical school career? Did you face some of those same types of issues?
Dr. Temeka Zore: I feel like not as blatantly in medicine. And not really in medical school. That was probably more gender, if anything, where people just confuse women for nurses. I get asked if I’m a nurse a lot. I don’t know if it’s about race. It’s probably more gender and just getting rid of those stereotypes of what and who a doctor is.
I know even coming through college, when I knew I wanted to be pre-med, and I’ve known I wanted to go into the medical field and be a doctor since I was probably 13 or 14, but I was always being talked into something else, going into college even. It was either by a counselor or whoever, “You can go into nursing. You could be a physician’s assistant. You can be a chiropractor. Do you really want to do this?” It made me question myself, but that was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a doctor. This is what my drive and my goal was.
I feel like I’m always trying to prove myself to anyone in any situation. That’s just something I feel like I personally carry. Maybe I don’t need to, but it’s just how I feel like I am now.
Dr. Aimee: What kind of advice does your mom have for you now when you share stuff with her? If you were to say, “Mom, someone confused me as a nurse,” what are some mom quotes from your mom?
Dr. Temeka Zore: A lot of times when it happens, sometimes it’s older men who that’s what they grew up with, that’s the situation they grew up in. So, I don’t take that as personal anymore.
I think being a doctor I am a very sensitive person by nature, but you do have to kind of toughen up in this field. With medical school, residency, and just everything in general, I think you have to develop a thicker skin, otherwise it’s a rough road.
I tried to take certain things so personally. Race is definitely still a sensitive subject, but in terms of mistaking me for whoever else, I just try to politely correct them. I’m always asked if I’m old enough to be a doctor, and I’ll just thank them for the compliment, “I appreciate that. Thank you.”
Dr. Aimee: Someone said I looked a lot younger than I did on my Instagram in person. I’m like cool, I’ll take it. Obviously, there’s a lack of diversity in medicine.
Dr. Temeka Zore: Yes.
Dr. Aimee: What kinds of things do you think we can do as a community of physicians to improve that?
Dr. Temeka Zore: I think just opening up the possibility for a lot of people. Personally, I feel like I grew up in a very middle-class family. My parents are in accounting and auditing, they’re not in the medical field. I wasn’t really around doctors, necessarily.
I think just increasing exposure for people. I’m always happy to talk to anyone who is even considering medicine or OB or a fellowship. I’m happy to share my journey and how I got here and what people can do to go on that path. I think having role models (and especially role models who look like you or have similar backgrounds) is so important.
I think having role models who are men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, every race and ethnicity. I think it’s just important to have a diversity of people that you can try to emulate. There are people who I want to be, regardless of race even, but just who I look up to. I think it’s important just to have a variety of people and backgrounds.
Dr. Aimee: Right. I want to talk a little about infertility right now and how it affects black women. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Temeka Zore: Yes. I feel like definitely this topic has been talked about more, especially on social media. Black women and fertility is kind of a touchy subject. A lot of black women don’t even want to talk about infertility. It’s like a shame and a stigma associated with being black and having infertility. I think there are a lot of reasons for that.
There have been papers written. There are definitely points and views about stereotypes of black women being hyper-fertile, I think maybe even going back to slavery days, and that you’re maybe less of a woman if you can’t get pregnant on your own or have to seek out treatment. I think there are a lot of reasons why. Just accessing care is an issue.
In terms of just numbers wise, black women have almost a two times higher rate of infertility than white women. Reasons for that can be varied in terms of either access to care and that they’re not seeking care as quickly. They have a higher risk of uterine disease, in terms of fibroids, as well as tubal factor infertility.
All those could potentially be going into why we see this kind of discrimination of black women having a higher rate of infertility than white women.
Dr. Aimee: Why do you think that they’re less likely to seek access? If we know that they’re two and a half times higher risk of infertility, why that?
Dr. Temeka Zore: One interesting study was a survey, I think it was of 50 black women. To just even get 50 black women to share their infertility experience took five years of collection, per the author of that study. I think that in itself says a lot in terms of just wanting to keep things in and not wanting to be public about it.
Besides access to care, I think diversity of care, I think it does play a part in having a doctor who maybe looks like you or has been through a similar experience.
Stanford came out with a really interesting study, I think it was in 2016. It spoke to black men and they were all going in for preventative health screening and were assigned either a black male physician or a non-black male physician. There was almost a 34% higher rate of men who went to the black male doctor completing their preventative care screening than the opposite. They looked at reasons why, and trust and communication were big parts of that. I think a lot of those factors go into it.
Again, on top of access to care, socioeconomic levels, having programs that are available to African-American women. Even something as simple as, I had a patient once say that she had no resources for who a black woman was who had been through infertility, so I gave her a couple that I knew of.
She was like we just don’t see even pictures online. If you go to a clinic website, it’s typically not black women who you’re seeing on websites. I have gone online and looked at these clinics, and a lot of times it’s not. Even something as simple as that makes you think maybe I shouldn’t be here, maybe this doesn’t really affect me.
Dr. Aimee: I’ve had patients even tell me, “Every time I come here, there’s only this one ethnicity that’s here. Have you ever taken care of someone of my ethnicity?” I’m like yes, just wait 30 minutes.
Dr. Temeka Zore: Wait to see the next person that comes in.
Dr. Aimee: As physicians, what can we do to improve access to fertility care for black women?
Dr. Temeka Zore: There’s a lot that we need to start with. I think just education and awareness is going to be really key in terms of letting black women know they are not alone in this, they should not be ashamed of this, they should not have to stay silent about it.
One good resource I like was Fertility for Colored Girls. It was started by a reverend who actually had been through her own infertility journey and realized that she felt alone and there weren’t a lot of resources. I like to refer patients to that site just to kind of have other voices to talk to and see other people who look like them going through this.
I think that we need to improve diversity in medical school, and in our field specifically in REI. I believe the latest statistics out of AAMC were that black physicians make up about 5–6% of all doctors in the U.S., even though black Americans are about 12–13% of the population. So, there’s still a big discrepancy just in terms of the diversity in doctors. Then black females are even lower than that.
Dr. Aimee: It was a pleasure. I hope a lot of people listen to you and see you as patients. Can you tell us again where people can find you, your clinic website, all that kind of stuff?
Dr. Temeka Zore: Yes. My clinic website is SpringFertility.com. It’s located in San Francisco. They have offices in the city and they also have them in Oakland and Redwood City.
I’m based in their San Francisco office and their soon to be opened SalesForce Tower office. They have a very diverse group of doctors there, all of which are focused on partnering with patients to achieve their desired family goals. They provide excellent fertility care, so I’m super thrilled to have joined them! Additionally, patients can find me on instagram (@temekazoremd) where I talk a lot about infertility, fertility preservation, pregnancy loss and advocacy.
Dr. Aimee: I’m sure they’re just as thrilled to have you as well.
Dr. Temeka Zore: Thank you.
Dr. Aimee: You’re joining a great group of doctors, there’s no doubt about that. You made a great choice. Thank you again for being on.
Dr. Temeka Zore: Thank you.
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