In my last blog post, I wrote about the ways in which COVID-19 was ravaging the lives of those in the Latinx community. While the statistics painted a horrific photo of inequality, especially in terms of financial vulnerability, it was and is quite clear that those in the Black community continue to suffer from more drastic and devastating health disparities, both during and long before COVID-19. Moreover, while the injustices against the health of Black Americans have always been there for anyone willing to research, listen, and pay attention, the pandemic has highlighted these circumstances and broadcasted them across the country. Many are now aware of the horrifying and troubling statistics; like how African Americans make up only 13% of the American population, yet “have died [from COVID-19] at a rate of 50.3 per 100,000 people, compared with 20.7 for whites, 22.9 for Latinos and 22.7 for Asian Americans” (Pilkington, The Guardian).
In addition to the racial atrocities of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The recent brutal deaths of unarmed Black Americans at the hands of the police have rattled the American public. These numerous murders have also demanded the attention of those who used to easily denounce these actions while simultaneously doing nothing because it did not directly impact their life. This must no longer be the case. It is no longer enough to simply not be racist. In the age of technology and social media, there is no excuse to not be informed, take action, or vocalize concern. You are either fighting for the health of Black Americans or you are actively allowing them to suffer. This is especially true for those in healthcare, whose actions affect Black Americans every day.
It is important to note that the BLM movement does not at all take away from the hardships faced by the Latinx community. We as Hispanics are simply reminded that there is another community enduring worse hardships than our own. Additionally, we must not forget that many members of the Latinx community are also Black and may identify as Afro-Latinx. The fight against Black health disparities, police brutality, and institutionalized racism, is not a fight we should simply let our Black or Afro-Latinx brothers and sisters fight alone. Let’s put in the work to make systemic and personal changes. Whether you are a pre-health student, a student in a professional school, or a healthcare professional, there are actions to take, information to help circulate, and people to advocate for.
First, we can all address our own explicit and implicit biases and check the biases of others (more to come on this in a future blog post). By reading about the history of minority medical oppression both in the U.S. and around the world, we can increase our knowledge about the persistence of this issue and the necessity to put an end to these practices. We can inform our friends and families concerning historical and current racial issues that haunt our healthcare system and address anti-black sentiments in the Latinx community, both past and present.
Second, we need to eliminate structural violence and institutionalized racism that leads to inaccessibility to healthcare and ultimately, poor health. When applying to health professions schools, look at the current curriculum the school offers and the efforts it makes to reduce the minority gap in healthcare. Does it include unconscious bias training? Does the school acknowledge the cruel history of racism in healthcare? How does the school work to increase and retain minority students and faculty? If your school currently does not have a curriculum or a diversity and inclusion department, fight for these. Black and Brown medical students at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City were moved by the BLM movement in 2015 and fought for curriculum on racism and bias in healthcare (ChangeNow.icahn.mssm.edu). After all, schools must strive to keep their students, all their students, happy and well-informed. Sign petitions and donate to foundations that work to implement better healthcare policies and grant wider healthcare access to minority patients. Lobby and vote for representatives that care about minority health and include improving the health of African Americans on their agenda.
Finally, work to decrease and dissolve the healthcare gap. Currently, the healthcare force does not mirror the patient population it serves. It’s been shown that minority doctors return to their home communities and better serve patients with their same culture and/or racial background. But in 2018, only 5% of active physicians identified as Black or African American (AAMC). Additionally, Black faculty retention at health professions schools is low because of institutionalized racism and daily microaggressions in academic medicine. Fight for your Black colleagues to be treated equally and encourage Black pre-health and health students that we need them! Commit yourself to serving patients of all backgrounds equally and work continuously to be a culturally competent student and healthcare provider.
Each of these steps present their own difficult and unique challenges, but as Frederick Douglass, a former slave, American social reformer, and abolitionist, said “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” Think about this when you vow to uphold the Hippocratic Oath or when applying to a health professions school that does not address African American health disparities. We need not just want to do better, but step up, fight, and do better! ¡Tu lucha es mi lucha!