Dr. Kiarra King on Black Women’s Health and Advocating for Yourself

There’s something undeniably, yes, magical about being a black woman surrounded by other black women. I’m usually reminded of this when a few friends and I do something like watch Beyoncé’s frankly iconic turn as the star of Carmen: a Hip Hopera. But other times I get to revel in the beauty of being with other black women on a much larger scale.

In April, I ventured west to the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson for the OMNoire Glow in OM Wellness Summit Presented by Tropicana Essentials Probiotics. OmNoire is a wellness community for women of color, and founder Christina Rice holds retreats to give attendees a chance to recharge in a space brimming with solidarity. Rice invited me to attend the most recent summit in the dry, dreamy heat of the Southwest to interview ob/gyn Kiarra King, M.D., who practices in the south suburbs of Chicago.

In a breakout session during the retreat, Dr. King and I discussed the realities of health and wellness for black women. Getting to know her only further stoked my pipe dream of one day becoming an ob/gyn. (Then I try to split the bill when I’m out at dinner and remember that STEM is my nemesis.)

I wanted to hear more from Dr. King about her life as an ob/gyn, mom, and avid blogger. Here, Dr. King drops a few gems.

SELF: First of all, how did you get into medicine?

Dr. King: When I was little, if I got a cold or sore throat—I’m about to date myself, don’t laugh—I would run to the encyclopedia and search for what my symptoms meant. There was no Google at the time! So that piqued my interest in medicine.

I knew I wanted to go to med school, and I initially wanted to do something related to athletics. My major in undergrad was actually athletic training because I’ve always loved that. So when I got to med school, I was like, ‘Oh, I can be in orthopedics.’ Then I did my ortho rotation, and I felt like I was in a mechanic shop with all the tools and instruments and pounding and hammering. I was like, ‘Mmm, nope, I don’t think I want to do this.’ Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting, and I’m glad people are getting joints replaced and things like that, but it didn’t feel right for me.

My next choice was physical medicine and rehab, which was still in line with my interests in athletics. But towards the end of my third year, I did my rotation in obstetrics and gynecology. I loved the fact that it was pretty varied. I did some outpatient stuff, I did deliveries, I did surgeries. But I’d decided I was doing physical medicine and rehab. Most people know what they want to do by their second year, and I was almost done with my third. I was like, ‘Ob/gyn is great, but it’s not what I’m doing.’ Then a day or two into my physical medicine and rehab rotation, I was like, ‘I’d rather be doing a C-section right now.’”

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SELF: So what was it that drew you to being an ob/gyn?

Dr. King: I love that I get to work with women of all ages in various stages of their lives. I may work with someone who is 14 who’s coming in because their periods are really painful, and they and their mother want to know what can we do. I may have someone who’s 65 and experiencing post-menopausal bleeding, someone having their third baby and coming in for prenatal care, someone with fibroids and horrible bleeding who wants to know their options. I love the variety of patients I get to see. No field of medicine is one-note, but as an ob/gyn especially, we get to do a lot of stuff.

SELF: You’ve mentioned that you mainly work with people in underserved populations. Can you explain what that means and why it’s so important to you?

Dr. King: Yes, I do mainly work with a largely underserved population, and it’s probably one of my favorite subsets of patients. They can be underserved for many reasons, like their education level or their socioeconomic status.

Generally this means that I often see patients operating from a space where they haven’t had anybody pour real care or encouragement into them. So I don’t just come in and take their vitals and leave. I’m talking to human beings. I’m not a robot, and they’re not robots. I love being able to be that bridge, resource, or smiling, friendly face if they haven’t seen one. Just to give people a sense of hope.

Months ago I saw a pregnant young lady. She wasn’t working or in school. I was like, ‘What’s your plan for when the baby comes?’ And she said no one in her entire life had ever talked to her about setting goals. I like to delve in and have these deeper conversations with my patients. So I said, ‘I want you to go home and just daydream. Let’s get you in that frame of mind to have you thinking about your goals.’ I saw her recently; she’s since had her baby and she now has a job. We had a good talk.

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SELF: Between seeing patients, being a mom, blogging, traveling—how do you juggle everything on your plate?

Dr. King: I always tell people I don’t know, but then I usually say, ‘God.’ He’s allowed me to keep everything going.

I have the privilege of having a flexible schedule. I say that I work part-full-time because I only work three days a week. It’s technically 30 hours, but it’s usually more than that because of what my job requires.

This means I’m able to drop my daughter, Kai, off at school on Monday mornings, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m able to take her to swim classes. I can take her to gymnastics on Wednesday afternoon, and we can run over to the library.

I also don’t work on weekends, so I can take her to ballet on Saturday, go to church on Sunday, schedule a photo shoot for my blog. I do have that flexibility that allows me to fit things in.

SELF: Self-care is a bit of an overused buzzword right now, but it’s important. What does self-care look like to you?

Dr. King: The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is read through my Bible app on my phone. People always say not to use the phone when you first wake up, and I’m like, ‘Man, I want to do that.’ But it’s so convenient! And it helps me center my day and get my mind started on the right track.

I also thoroughly enjoy being with my family. We’re really close-knit, and we love hanging out. Just knowing that we are living out our older family members’ legacy by being together—that pours into my soul.

I do spend a lot of time working on my blog, but I enjoy doing photo shoots. I enjoy dolling up and getting my makeup done. I did a collaboration with an eyelash extension brand and got to lie there and relax for two hours. If it’s going to be in my blogging world, it typically is something that will fulfill me spiritually and emotionally. I know it’s not me alone meditating, but self-care is not a one-hit wonder. It’s not a monolith. We have to get out of that way of thinking.

SELF: A lot of people find it hard to bring up concerns about their health to their doctor. Why is advocating for yourself so important—and sometimes so hard?

Dr. King: Advocating for yourself can be easier said than done. People are scared to speak up, or maybe you hope you’ve gotten a solution and you don’t want to press any further. And for black women, it can be hard because so many of us are used to taking care of other people.
But advocating for yourself is vital. It can make such a difference. It’s definitely a form of self-care.

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One way to make it easier is to go in with a list of questions if you can. If you know you have fibroids and are going to discuss what your options are, take a quick look out there to see what treatments they have. That way, if your doctor says you need a hysterectomy but you think you may be a candidate for an IUD or other treatment, you can say ‘Hey, I was reading about these additional options. Would those work for me?’ It at least opens up the conversation.

If your doctor says, ‘You know what, I didn’t mention those other things because they’re not great options medically for these reasons,’ then you know they thought about it. But if your doctor says, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you would want that but you really are a candidate,’ you may want to consider getting a second opinion.

The goal is to really have a physician who you can develop that rapport and meaningful relationship with so your connection builds a sense of trust. Then, when you have questions, you know they’re genuinely listening. When you have that trust and know you’re on the same page, that relationship can blossom even if that physician won’t be the one to take care of a particular health situation for you.

I tell people all the time: This is your body. This is your health. You get one life. It’s so important to know when something is wrong and be able to say, ‘Hey, I’ve never experienced this, what can we do?’ If you truly feel there’s something going on and your doctor isn’t listening, it’s absolutely OK for you to say, ‘Can you refer me to someone else?’ or ‘Thanks for your time, I think I’m going to seek out another provider.’ Or you don’t even have to do all that—you can leave and try to find another physician who’s a better fit. It’s OK to do that. You know your body.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Related:

https://www.self.com/story/kiarra-king, GO TO SAUBIO DIGITAL FOR MORE ANSWERS AND INFORMATION ON ANY TOPIC

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