One corrective for healthcare inequities: more Black women in health careers

Dr. Elizabeth Alabi
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Health Care

Pandemic highlighted disparities

Elizabeth Alabi knew from a young age that she wanted to help people when she grew up.  Now, as a leading doctor, she wants to see more Black girls seriously consider choosing the healthcare profession as a career.

Alabi, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist, was among 50 medical volunteers who took part in the day-long “Black Women with Stethoscopes” events last month for young Black girls, sponsored by Hennepin Health Care. [See “Talent Garden grows local youth into healthcare workers,” MSR May 12] The Brooklyn Park native has been with the organization since 2016.

“I’ve always had an interest in health care,” said Alabi, “and I’ve had an interest in other things like teaching and social work. I shadowed a social worker and that didn’t work out. I liked being in the hospital.”

After a successful college track and field career at the University of Minnesota, where she got her B.A. in the early 2000s, Alabi went on to Saint Louis University Medical School (2008-12). She completed her residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (2012-16) before coming back home and accepting her current position with Hennepin Health Care.  

She recalled among the many questions from the girls at the April 30 event being asked  how long she had to go to school to be a doctor and how long her work hours are. “You do spend a lot of time in the hospital,” the doctor acknowledged.  

More importantly, Alabi proudly pointed out, “I really wanted to serve the patient population, to love our patients. They’re very diverse. I’m happy that I’m here.”

Her mission statement on her HCMC website bio, titled “commitment to patient-centered care,” included: “One of the greatest aspects of my job is empowering and educating women to take control of their overall health.”

Now in the third year of a pandemic, Alabi noted how the virus has called attention to the systemic health inequities that exist in this country, especially in regard to Blacks, other people of color and the economically disadvantaged. 

“I think as a society we really have highlighted things that we’ve kind of undervalued,” she said. “COVID has very much really reinforced that. We’re working with a lot of people who need resources, baseline resources now, and there’s not a lot of really thinking about that, about how to care for patients. 

“I don’t think healthcare institutions have ever really taken time to be, like, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing to contribute to healthcare inequities?’ That’s happened the last couple of years,” she said.

Alabi said she also is proud that Hennepin Health Care is starting to ask similar questions and working toward finding the answers proactively.  “I can’t speak for all healthcare institutions. I think Hennepin at least is trying to make sense. Are they going to be absolutely different in the next three years, five years, 10 years? I think so.”

She also wants to be an integral part of attracting more Black girls to one day become doctors or other medical professionals as adults. “I just want to do my part to get more young Black women into medicine. That is definitely something that we need to improve upon.”