Doctors Day Profile: Randy Vince, MD, Makes Black Men’s Health His Business
March 28, 2023
His past has shaped the man he has become and his passion for health equity
Doctor's Day is March 30, when we show our appreciation for doctors everywhere for the work they do. This year we spotlight urologist and surgeon Randy Vince Jr., MD, MS, who joined University Hospitals last year as the inaugural Director of Minority Men's Health at UH Cutler Center for Men.
His career is built around giving back to the community that shaped him. He actively participates in research and outreach events to promote health equity and eliminate disparities. Dr. Vince has a personal philosophy that he applies to his career and life: leadership through service.
How did you become interested in medicine, and when? Who or what were your influences?
I took an unconventional route to medicine. I didn't know any physicians growing up. So naturally, I didn't aspire to become a physician as a child. Like many young people growing up in majority Black communities lacking resources, I thought sports was a way I could become successful and help my family and community.
It wasn't until I played football in college that I began to think a career in medicine was possible. However, I still didn't understand the rigors of medical school, residency, and beyond, that I would face. It wasn't until after undergrad at 24 that I decided to pursue a medical career wholeheartedly. I planned to become a physician and return to serve the historically underserved Black community.
I initially wanted to become a nephrologist; I knew the disproportionate impact of diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease on Black people, having so many family members diagnosed with these chronic conditions. Becoming an urologist didn't occur to me until my maternal grandmother passed from metastatic kidney cancer.
My grandmother's poor treatment after her kidney cancer diagnosis is why I became a surgeon.
What past experiences led you to where you are today?
I am a Black man originally from West Baltimore who grew up seeing many of the struggles we commonly see in Black communities across this country. I saw drug addicts injecting heroin, and they would often blow the veins in their arms, wrists, and hands and resort to injecting in their genitalia. I saw people get robbed or shot, including my dad. The image of firefighters spraying my dad's blood off the sidewalk with a fire hose still sticks with me today.
My upbringing gives me the passion to continue serving no matter what goals I may achieve. My experiences instilled resilience and are etched in my memory and comprise the fiber of the man I am today.
How did you discover you wanted to pursue the specialty of urology and then surgery?
My grandmother's passing was devastating; but I often say my grandmother was looking out for me, even from the grave. I say that because if it weren't for her, I would've never thought about the specialty of urology. But now that I'm further along, I know the disparate outcomes of prostate cancer on Black men. Prostate cancer has arguably worse racial disparities than any form of cancer.
Yet, despite knowing that if caught early, survival rates are almost 100 percent, Black men are less likely to undergo screening and more likely to die from prostate cancer.
What is your role as the Director of Minority Men's Health?
Our area within the Cutler Center for Men focuses on health disparities in our communities, such as prostate cancer. Our programming goals are to increase health literacy, get more men insured, and connect men to competent primary care physicians. We want Black men to know, “When I'm this age, I should get screened for these things." If we screen more men, we can intervene at the earliest stage of disease, and the outcomes will improve dramatically. These are just some of the issues we plan to address with the Minority Men's Health program.
What was medical school like for you as a Black man?
I was a notoriously lousy student, and I got expelled from one of the middle schools I attended because of my poor behavior and performance. But thankfully, I was able to use sports as a conduit to academic success. I achieved a lot athletically and earned multiple honors in high school, which allowed me to enroll in college.
I didn't decide to go to medical school until after college. But even after I made that decision, I reached out to the pre-med committee chair to ask for a letter of recommendation.
I still remember the email exchange in which she told me, “You're a good student, not a great student. To excel in medical school, you need to be a great student." She just flat-out refused to write me a letter of recommendation. This experience made me question and doubt myself; I wondered if I was smart enough to move forward.
But I persevered and was accepted into medical school. Overall, the experience was positive. But I had some negative experiences that still linger to this day.
First, I was one of four Black students out of 120. A classmate sent me racist memes, but he claimed he was joking. He was never disciplined and probably still practices medicine to this day.
Attendings discouraged me from applying to competitive specialties. One attending told me, “You're not smarter than anyone else. Don't be upset with being average."
These experiences are why addressing health inequities and providing mentorship are crucial to me. (Dr. Vince earned bachelor's degrees in biochemistry and chemistry from Towson State University, attended medical school at Louisiana State University, had his urology residency at Virginia Commonwealth University and his fellowship in urologic oncology at the University of Michigan, where he also earned a master's degree in computational medicine and bioinformatics.)
What attracted you to UH? How did you land here?
Coming out of the fellowship, I had different offers from places trying to recruit me. I talked to Lee Ponsky, MD, the Chair of Urology. He was such an out-of-the-box thinker. He said, “Look, health inequities need addressing. I think your passions accurately align with everything that we want to do. Would you be interested in coming to UH?"
I hadn't heard much about Cleveland, but when I drove around, I saw many of the same struggles growing up in Baltimore. I knew that this was somewhere that I could come and serve. And so, from that moment on, I continued to talk to Lee and said, “Yeah, I'm all in, ready to come and ready to serve."