Medical student becomes first Black female to match into UF urology residency program
Elizabeth Kwenda learned the groundbreaking news Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month.
Feb. 16, 2022 — Elizabeth Kwenda, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Florida College of Medicine, is the first Black female to match into UF’s urology residency program and one of three individuals accepted into the university’s highly competitive program for 2022 based on their excellent academic and research portfolios. She will begin her residency this summer after graduating with her medical degree in May.
The news was announced Feb. 1 and not in March, when most programs and students celebrate Match Day, because the American Urological Association and the Society of Academic Urologists run their own process that posts results earlier in the year, similar to ophthalmology.
“It’s about time it happened,” Kwenda said. “I’m really excited and honored. The field of urology is really starting to evolve.”
She is one of five College of Medicine students — including one other woman and underrepresented minority — to match into urology residencies across the country this February. And while she is the first Black woman in the UF residency, Kwenda is also determined to not be the last.
Interest in medicine sparked by family member’s illness
Kwenda was born in Zimbabwe and moved to the U.S. at 9 years old to join her parents, who had come to the country years before. Her interest in urology stems in part from the kidney-related death of her beloved grandmother and guardian, Dorothy Chihombori, in Zimbabwe.
After transferring as an undergraduate from East Tennessee State University to the UF College of Medicine’s Medical Honors Program, Kwenda connected with some urologists who took her under their wing and showed her what the work is really like. She completed a urology rotation and took a year off from medical school to conduct bladder cancer immunology research with AUA grant funding and faculty mentors like Christopher E. Bayne, M.D., Paul L. Crispen, M.D., and Sergei Kusmartsev, Ph.D.
“It was a blast,” Kwenda said. “You realize the work you do in both the clinic and the lab is important because without the lab work, you can’t really push medicine forward.”
Working as an academic physician became her goal, she said. And when the match process came around, Kwenda knew she needed to go to a place like UF, where faculty were understanding and encouraging. An instance that stood out was when Li-Ming Su, M.D., FRCS, chair of the department of urology at UF, introduced her to a Black woman in the field at another university, so she could have someone to connect with.
“That spoke volumes to the support that was here for me,” Kwenda said. “At the end of the day, you have to go wherever is best for you, where you feel like you thrive and where you’d likely be supported. And as I kept thinking back, I kept coming to all these instances where I had felt supported or like people really wanted me to do well.
“I never had to contemplate whether I belong here at this program. I think that’s part of the reason why UF is a great place,” she said.
Better representation is needed
Women and Black or African Americans continue to be underrepresented among U.S. urology residents and practicing physicians, according to statistics from the AUA.
In 2019, just a quarter of urology residents were women and 3.5% were Black or African American. Of practicing physicians, 9% were women, 3.3% were Black or African American and less than 1% fell into both categories.
“It’s a growing population, but I think a lot of work needs to be done,” said M. Louis Moy, M.D., residency program director for the Department of Urology at the UF College of Medicine.
With UF’s urology program, Kwenda is joining a group of 14 other residents. Roughly a third are women.
In the field, the need for diversity, equity and inclusion is considered a health care crisis, Moy said. Patients may trust or listen better to physicians who look like them. And there are known disparities in disease prevalence and outcomes among different patient populations, such as prostate cancer in Black men.
“It’s important for us to add that diversity to our training population,” Moy said.
Kwenda’s trailblazing opens doors for others
Moy has known Kwenda since her first year of medical school. He has watched her grow into her own as a researcher and physician and said she shares the department’s core values of integrity and striving for excellence.
“We are really looking forward to having her here,” he said, adding that he hopes her trailblazing and identity as the first Black female resident in the program will encourage other students like her to apply or consider urology as their future career.
“Being both an underrepresented minority and a female, I think it’s important that she acts as a role model,” Moy said. “That allows other students from diverse backgrounds to consider urology as a viable field when they maybe thought it wasn’t inclusive for them. That’s really important for urology and the health of the field moving forward.”
Kwenda added, “You can’t aspire to be something you don’t see. If you’re a first-year medical student and you are being introduced to all these specialties, I think there is comfort in knowing other people who look like you have thrived or truly enjoyed that field. Once you see someone in that position who looks like you or who you can relate to, you realize, ‘Hey, maybe I can fit in here, too.’
“So many people who fit under so many different umbrellas are finally coming to the field, and I think that’s how it should be,” she said. “The field needs us, and I think there’s room.”