Faculty Spotlight: Natalie Humphrey, PhD, CEAP
By Dr. Natalie Humphrey
My grandmother was a licensed practice nurse. She worked as a domestic because her educational level far exceeded what was accepted for an African American woman. Although she worked as a domestic, she enjoyed her life and raised 5 kids, four of which went on to earn graduate-level degrees.
My mother graduated from Tuskegee University's class of 1971 in nursing. She was recruited for the University of Michigan's master's program in nursing. My mother was one of the first class of African American graduates from that program. She would later join the US Air Force, where she served 20 years as a nursing administrator and retired as a Lt. Colonel. As the woman in my family were role-models in healthcare, I was happy to follow their footsteps as a medical professional. At age 10, I was sure that I wanted to serve others as a healthcare provider.
Growing up, I lived in the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas, where most of my peers did not look like me. The very few African American students at my school said that I "talked too white," but my skin was "too dark." The content of the literature and history that was reviewed at my school did not include my ancestry. Looking back, I understand that adolescence is a challenging time for identity development for anyone. However, the cards were stacked against me in an environment with little affirmation and no role models.
Later I applied to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, expecting to immerse myself in a more supportive environment. When I stepped onto the campus of Clark Atlanta University, my world opened up! I was part of a community that loved who I was and taught a history that included my stories. My psychology professors looked at mental health throughout the African diaspora from a perspective of strength and resiliency. I was home!
I applied to clinical psychology doctorate programs with a sharp focus on my original goal. This was despite some discouragement to avoid such a competitive route. Clinical psychology programs had about 300-400 applicants, with only space for 7 new students per year! I was determined to maintain a 3.9 GPA, engage in research with my professors, and volunteer at a rape crisis center to ensure that my applications were competitive. I was admitted to four programs and chose St. Louis University.
My training experience was more rigorous, intrusive, and critical than I expected, as I was the only African American student in my class. However, the students from more senior classes offered a guiding hand and pulled me over the finish line. These relationships have remained important to me throughout the years. We are a group of African American psychologists who know the sacrifices we have made will benefit others' lives in the future.
My life as a clinical psychologist has been more rewarding than expected. I have served patients who would not typically seek mental health care but need the most services. My clinical experiences have extended to leadership, teaching, and training. I am very fortunate to train young doctors and expect that their work will close the gap of health disparities that impact African Americans lives. My long-term goal is to improve health and quality of life throughout the African diaspora, including those living in the Caribbean. The journey has just begun, and there is work to do!
This post originally appeared as part of AUC's THRIVE Week Black History Month exhibit, "Showcasing Black Excellence in the AUC Community," in partnership with the Black Medical Student Association (BMSA).