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Race, Health Care and a Call to Justice

July 06, 2020
Area(s) of Interest: Diversity and Inclusion 


Recently, the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) hosted a webinar titled, “I Can’t Breathe: Reflections on Racism, Anti-Blackness and a Path Forward Globally and in Cardiovascular Medicine.” The webinar centered on the intersections of systemic racism, including racial disparities in law enforcement and public health. The webinar (which is now available for on-demand playback) was held in an effort to address and combat bias and racism in the house of medicine, shed light on the issues of justice and equity, and offer a roadmap for how to create a more just and equitable society.

Speakers recounted stories of their experiences with racism in their own lives, in their profession and how they see the medical profession and society failing communities of color, especially the Black community.

Sabra Lewsey, M.D., MPH, a cardiology fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said during her interviews for medical school, one of her interviewers asked her: “What makes you different than other Blacks?” She also recounted heartbreaking experiences with patients who refused to get on hospital elevators with her because of the color of her skin.

Dr. Lewsey’s experiences are not unique. Michelle Albert, M.D., MPH, President of ABC’s Board of Directors and Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, facilitated the event and shared some of her own stories. The California Medical Association (CMA) reached out to Dr. Albert to continue the conversation regarding the webinar and a collective path forward.

“We decided to host the webinar as a continuation of a joint statement that we did with the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiologists to denounce racism and violence after George Floyd’s murder. We also saw it as important to shed light that even as health care workers and doctors, our patients, families, and colleagues experience significant amounts of racism and discrimination and our voices needed to be heard,” said Dr. Albert.

Dr. Albert is a cardiologist and researcher with a background focused on the social determinants of health. Her relationship with ABC started when she was a second year medical student, and she has remained an active member with the association ever since because, in her own words, “of things that I saw and experienced in my training – feelings of being alone that were quelled by a home in the ABC. I wanted to be with folks who were like me and who could inspire me – that was critical for my career and my success so far.”

“I have been fortunate to have a successful career, but a successful career comes at a price,” said Dr. Albert. “As a Black cardiologist, my research has not been part of the mainstream and I have always had to go outside of cardiology to get collaboration and support. In short, it takes a lot more work, time and strain to focus on the type of work that I do, and there within lies some of the disparity. People get weeded out because what they contribute isn’t valued by the system.”

When asked what the medical community needs to do to upend systemic racism and create an equitable society, she had five key areas of focus:

  1. Address the health care workforce pipeline – How are future doctors groomed and recruited? Who has access to the field? And how can we remove barriers to entry?
  2. Address diversity in clinical trials – Patient populations need to be diversified and Black and Brown principal investigators need to be promoted in their research.
  3. Address access to equitable and quality health care – Black and Brown communities have disproportionately poor access to quality, affordable care.
  4. Advocate for policy and institutional initiatives that eliminate educational and economic disparities – Not everyone has access to equitable education and opportunity.
  5. Recognize Black and brown professionals for their leadership and talents – Address inequality in promotion, advancement and endowed chairs.

As an extension of this work, ABC is currently accepting applications for the 2020 COVID-19 Innovation Awards, which will fund six different projects that create novel and sustainable innovations for the treatment of Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Click here to learn more about the award or to apply.

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