Dr. Kafui Dzirasa: A Black Man in a White Coat


I’m Kafui Dzirasa, I am a physician scientist with training in neuroscience, bioengineering and psychiatry. I’m really invested in figuring out how the needs of the folks I see in the clinic can be manifested in a world of science. The goal of my research is to understand how the brain works as an organ, and if we can understand how information is organized in this organ, then you can have treatments that are based in organ rather than the behavioral output. I organize people to spend their entire time working on problems that, at the deepest part of my core, matter to who I am. As an African-American male, the unique set of experiences that I have all filter into my interpretation, and I consider that one of the greatest gifts that I have as a scientist, is the fact that I just see the world differently. In one case a young man is diagnosed with ADHD and their life is tracked in a certain way, in other ways they’re diagnosed with conduct disorder if there’s a history of disparities and they are trafficed into the juvenile justice system. That is where institutional bias has its greatest room to play and do its destruction, and so that’s what happens in the context of mental ilness. I’m aware of these things, but I still exists with the fundamental belief that, with enough hard work and discipline I can find myself on the other side of all those challenges. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. The high school was incredibly diverse. It was only when I was sitting in it AP calculaculus or AP chemistry, where I was the only African-American student. My dream when I was in high school was to go off and be an Olympic champion. I ran track all the way through high school. A lot of how I approached the world, I learned it on the track. Because you have an ability to have a measurement and so the goal for me was always to get better against myself, and if I keep getting better, I have no doubt that ultimately I’ll be able to squeeze all of the gifts and talents that I have and make a difference in the world. There are any given number of fantastic and amazing role models that suggests a young African-American male can be a basketball player or football player. My belief is that intellect is universally distributed. It is scattered irrespective of race. That means we developed the best systems in this country when we figure out how to mine talent from everywhere. There is a dramatically under-represented population of African American men in medicine; it means that we as a country aren’t doing our job of mining talent in children who are born as African-Americans or children who wer born in poverty. My passion for neuroscience, if you track it back, goes back to the 7th grade. My passion for engineering goes back even further. In hindsight it’s no surprise that I ended up here, right? Those narratives became imprinted very early on for me. I went to an undergrad program where the goal was to increase the number of underrepresented minorities getting PhDs in the sciences. I did five years of training is a chemical engineering major at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and next thing you know I was in medical school. Duke has nurtured and supported and developed me to be who I am. By giving folks model of scientists and models as clinicians, that inspiration can happen early on. I bring undergrads into my lab every summer from diverse backgrounds. I think having a picture of what your life can look like is a powerful motivating factor. We normally have some of my mentees over every Thursday night. My wife spends her time as child psychiatrist. We are each other’s best support. No one does anything great by themselves. We all need help, we all need support, we all need people who are farther along to invest in us accomplishing our dreams. You are capable of making the world spin on an entirely differnt axis. All you need is self belief and people who are wiling to support you. My name is Kafui Dzirasa and I am a Black Man in a White Coat.

11 thoughts on “Dr. Kafui Dzirasa: A Black Man in a White Coat

  1. great mini series they should put this on tv its positive its encouraging its motivation not just becomming a doctor but anything you set your mind towards much respect to the doctors of color my people i smile

  2. When i saw his black wife i felt like i won the lotto. Its also inspiring when successful impactful black men find an equally yolked black woman. Nothing against interracial relation as someone with a multiracial child it's just unbelievably empowering to see a powerful black couple.

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