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A Force for Change: Meet Dr. Ledet

15 White Coats
15 White Coats

Spend just a few minutes with Dr. Russell “R.J.” Ledet and you will agree he is exactly where he is supposed to be as a Triple Board resident at Indiana University School of Medicine.

He didn’t follow a typical path to get there. His resumé prior to medical school includes nearly a decade of military service, time as a security guard at a hospital, and a PhD in molecular oncology and tumor immunology. Yet, he vividly remembers the conversation he had as a medical student at Tulane University that cemented his decision to pursue a career in child and adolescent psychiatry.

“There was a little African American boy who came in for ADHD medication management. The conversation was so authentic,” Dr. Ledet recalls. “I was in a child psychiatric clinic talking to a young Black boy about his mental health, but I was also talking to him about red beans and rice and the New Orleans Saints. It felt so familiar.

I remember him asking the attending [physician], can he be my doctor one day? The exact same day before I left the clinic, I told the doctor, I’m going to be a Triple Board resident. My mind is made up.”

Triple Board residents complete five years of comprehensive training in Pediatrics, Adult Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In 2022, Dr. Ledet became the first Black man to enter the program at IU. His presence fills an urgent need. IU is the only place that trains child and adolescent psychiatrists in Indiana, a state facing a severe shortage – the current ratio is seven psychiatrists per 100,000 children, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Further, just 4 percent of active psychiatrists nationwide are Black or African American.

“When I was growing up, the mental health of Black boys wasn’t even a blip on the radar. I think for me to be in this position where I can be a force for change around mental health for marginalized children is the right thing to do,” Dr. Ledet shares. “It’s something I think my ancestors would be proud of.”

Honoring his ancestors is key to Dr. Ledet’s drive. He was one of 15 Black medical students who took a photo together wearing their white coats in front of a slave quarter at Whitney Plantation. The photo went viral, and the group used that influence to build The 15 White Coats, a nonprofit organization dedicated to diversifying medicine. Dr. Ledet is a co-founder and current president. That photo became a poster they have distributed to over 10,000 classrooms worldwide in an effort to change the conversation around what a physician looks like.

The same dedication underlines Dr. Ledet’s interactions with families at Riley Children’s Health. He remembers supporting a father whose daughter had a new asthma diagnosis. “Every time I would go into the room he would have a million and one questions,” Dr. Ledet says. “One day I was like, ‘You know what? When I finish rounds, I’m going to come in here and explain everything I know about asthma to you.’ I probably stayed in that room for an hour and a half.

When I got ready to leave, the dad gave me a hug. He was like, ‘You are the reason why we come to Riley.’

Dr. Ledet
Dr. Ledet

Dr. Ledet’s latest recognition is winner of Indy’s Best & Brightest in the category of Health & Life Sciences. Created by Junior Achievement, the award honors central Indiana’s most outstanding young professionals. With each accomplishment, Dr. Ledet stays focused on the future. “It’s not about what I’ve already done,” he insists. “It’s about what I’m going to do.” Part of that vision is doing his part to position Riley as a national leader for improving youth mental health, particularly in marginalized communities.