The lack of appropriate role models on television has always been worrisome to leaders in the African American community. However, a new animated children’s series is providing inspiration to young Black women.
Doc McStuffins is a Disney Channel offering that features a six-year-old Black girl named Doc McStuffins who aspires to become a doctor one day like her mother. When she puts on her magical stethoscope, her toys come to life and with the help of her stuffed animals, she helps the toys recover from their ailments.
Dr. Myiesha Taylor watches the show with her four-year-old daughter Hana and she is impressed with the series' minority lead character who dreams of becoming an educated professional rather than choosing a more stereotypical career in athletics or entertainment.
To show her appreciation for the show, Taylor created an image of the Doc McStuffins character in the center of a circle of 131 real Black women doctors, mostly dressed in scrubs and ready for work. She uploaded the collage to her website with a message for young women of color who dream of becoming doctors themselves one day.
Taylor wanted to let young girls of color know that there are real-life Doc McStuffins who were able to realize their aspirations as grownups. These women role models include graduates from America’s top universities like Harvard and Stanford.
The women in the collage also include practitioners from many fields of medicine including neurology and psychiatry. Taylor herself works in an emergency room as a certified physician.
Doc McStuffins' creator Chris Nee said that they hoped that the series’ lead character would provide a good role model for little girls and that the Disney Channel encouraged her to create a minority lead. Since the show first aired, there has been a warm reception not only from kids, but surprisingly also from adults.
Nee said that she hoped that the Doc McStuffins character would have a positive impact on young girls whom she noted often inherit negative attitudes toward science starting early in life.
The American Medical Association publishes an annual statistical study of physicians in America and the 2012 edition noted that there were 18,533 Black women physicians in 2010. That constitutes less than two percent of the total 985,385 doctors including about 300,000 women doctors. However, data from the 2010 U.S. Census indicates that Black women make up about 6.15 percent of the population.
The show is resonating with many Black female doctors who believe that it can help in changing attitudes and in boosting the representation of Black women in the medical field. University of Washington cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Leah Backhus, for example, appreciates the way the show depicts a young minority girl. She sees Doc McStuffins and her toy clinic as something unique and cool on television that can have a tremendous, positive impact on her seven-year-old daughter.
Doc McStuffins is part of a recent trend in kids’ television with lead minority characters popping up in series like Maya & Miguel on PBS and Dora the Explorer on Nickelodeon. Disney Channel also offers Handy Manny, an animated series featuring bilingual Latino handyman Manny Garcia, and Shake It Up, a sitcom featuring a number of minority stars as part of the main cast.
According to media diversity expert Kevin Clark of George Mason University, television role models, including animated versions, have a powerful impact on children. Since minority children spend a good deal of time watching television, what they see can influence how they perceive themselves along with their dreams of what is possible for them in the future.