The highly publicized police shootings of 15 young black men over the past two years troubles me. This issue, along with the increasing number of racially motivated hate crimes, has fueled the national conversation on race and highlighted the racial and social inequality that continues to exist in our country. The police shootings represent another millstone around the necks of black and brown people and, in particular, black males. This issue is a concern for me on many levels. First, as a Christian—social justice and advocating for the oppressed, the vulnerable, and those whose voices aren’t heard are central to heart of the God I love and serve. Second, as a black man who has been subjected to racial profiling. Third, as a Family Physician. And it is on the level of a Family Physician that I raise this issue.
Caring for the health of our communities is one of the pillars of our specialty. This pillar is so important that it is included in the name of our department—the Department of Family and Community Medicine. I don’t want to give the perception that the lives of black men are more important than the lives of others. However, the homicide and incarceration rates among black men, particularly young males, suggests we have a serious public health problem. The unemployment rate among black and brown people, the rates of black and brown people living in poverty as compared to whites, and the disparities in healthcare for people of color point out the existing serious social injustices. Unfortunately, Peoria is not immune to these issues, named as the fifth worst city in the nation for black people in a November 2018 article by 24/7 Wall St. Local healthcare disparities include black women teen birth rate four times that of white women, 13 percent of deliveries to black mothers being preterm compared to 9.7 percent deliveries to white mothers (national preterm birth is 9.85 percent), and black people between the ages of 25 and 64, dying at a rate more than twice that of their white counterparts.
Considering the populations our department serves, the racial and social inequities in Peoria, and the multicultural backgrounds of our students, residents, and faculty, I, along with faculty leadership, have concluded that addressing issues of social injustice—mainly healthcare disparities—will purposely be part of the education curriculum. It is important that learners and faculty are equipped to address these issues and help resolve them.
Monthly roundtable discussions occur to incorporate this subject matter into the curriculum. “Racism in Medicine,” “The Disparity in Cancer Trials Involvement for People of Color” (compared to whites), and “Awareness and Recognition of Human Trafficking” are examples of topics discussed.
Centering Pregnancy, group prenatal care with women due at the same time, has started at Heartland Carver and the Family Medicine Center as a strategy to address the high preterm birth rate among African American women.
Two department faculty and two residents are charter participants of a University task force that developed an institution-wide program designed to encourage caregivers to speak up when they hear comments that may reflect bias from other caregivers so concerns may be discussed and clarified openly.
Faculty and resident involvement in community initiatives, and on community boards focused on addressing inequities, allows us to be part of the solution. Melanie Andrews and Rahmat Na’Allah are actively involved with other members of the Peoria community, meeting with city officials to address the issues of local economic, health, food, education, and employment disparities, with the goal of identifying solutions. With these and other efforts, our department is trying to contribute to help Peoria move forward.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” The problem of racial and social inequities is national in scope—present in communities that are large, small, and in between.
As an alumnus, and as an extension of the Department of Family and Community Medicine into our society, how are you addressing these inequities with your patients and in your community? I encourage you to post your answers and thoughts on our Facebook page.
I would also encourage you to share your successful strategies for reducing or eliminating healthcare disparities and facilitating connections to enhance the community work.