How can we address racism’s ill effects on Black health?

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As a part of the education of our students and residents at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, our Department of Otolaryngology has adopted a “Cultural Competencies” curriculum. It is intended to investigate issues that are relevant to a patient’s physical and mental recovery as influenced by the cultural awareness of his caregivers.

The Medical School has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) committed to ensuring equitable opportunities for applying and matriculating medical students and aspiring medical staff, as well as their retention and promotion.

One of our sessions surrounded the tragic death of a physician hospitalized with COVID-19 whose caregivers were found to be negligent in their approach to her care. Dr. Susan Moore, who was African American, tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to the hospital. In a 7½-minute video posted to her Facebook page, Moore described her dismissed complaints about her symptoms and physical examination by her White doctor.

“I was crushed,” a tearful Moore said of her doctor’s refusal to provide her pain medication. “He made me feel like I was a drug addict. And he knew I was a physician. I don’t take narcotics. I was hurting.” Dr. Susan Moore died after weeks of battling coronavirus.

The discussion that followed raised more questions than answers: What went through your mind when you first watched that video of Dr. Moore speaking from her hospital bed? How common are Dr. Moore’s experiences? How should the hospital respond? How should hospitals address the issue of racial equity?

The CEO of the hospital later responded: “I do not believe that we failed the technical aspects of the delivery of Dr. Moore’s care. I am concerned, however, that we may not have shown the level of compassion and respect we strive for in understanding what matters most to patients.”

This leads us to ask, does racism affect our health? A Harvard Health Blog states, from a “patients’ perspective…racism and discrimination are deeply ingrained in the social, political, and economic structures of our society. For minorities, these differences result in unequal access to quality education, healthy food, livable wages, and affordable housing.”

How to intervene? Institute formal diversity training in medical school to effect change on students’ levels of implicit bias over time. The goal of interventions shouldn’t be to confront physicians but to make biases less important in their interactions.

Get physicians to see a patient as an individual rather than as a stereotyped member of a group. Help patients become more engaged with their treatment and fostering their sense of being on the same team as their doctor.

To help investigate this issue, Dr. Brooke Cunningham has initiated a study. See below for details if you chose to participate.

Should you talk with your doctor about whether racism is affecting your health?

We are looking for: US-born African American men and women, ages 40-75, to participate in a two-hour online focus group. Must have Internet access. $50 gift card for participation.

Learn more at: Improving Communication about Racism for Equity” Email: ICARE2020@umn.edu or phone 612-301-5550.

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.

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