Key Post Highlights
> READ: Books for learning about health equity
> WATCH: Videos for learning about health equity
> LISTEN: Podcasts for learning about health equity
Many physicians who work with predominantly Black American populations do not understand our beliefs and behavior because they haven’t educated themselves on the history — and this is why certain health disparities exist.
If you are working with Black American patients, just like you would take someone’s medical history to understand their personal condition, you have to take an inventory of their cultural history, too. As healthcare organizations work towards health equity, historical roots are critical to understand.
For this Black History Month edition of the CEO Vitamins series, I’ve put together a few resources that can help you educate yourself and others on health equity topics.
This “resources list” can also be beneficial if you are a health equity officer since you’re getting silly questions like, “Why is there an issue?” What is it about racism and health?” “Why can’t Black people just [fill in the blank].”
Spare yourself the stress of a conversation, and send them this blog post.
READ: Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington
Harriet A. Washington is a medical historian, and Medical Apartheid, is the mic drop on medical terrorism towards Black Americans. This isn’t an easy book to read. This book sat on my shelf for 3 years because I couldn’t muster up the emotional composure to read it. I finally did because we were starting to support more health equity clients and projects, and I wanted to be informed with data not just anecdotes.
There were definitely moments where I had to put the book down for a week or so to process my own anger and sadness towards what my ancestors went through. Take for instance, this excerpt detailing the atrocities performed by Dr. Marion J. Sims, the alleged “Father of Modern Gynecology” on enslaved Black women.
“The surgeries themselves were terribly painful. Not only had Sims to close the unnatural openings in the ravaged vaginal tissues; he had to make the edges of these openings knit together. He opted to abrade, or “scarify,” the edges of the vaginal tears every time he attempted to repair an opening. He then closed them with sutures and saw them become infected and reopen, painfully, every time… He flatly refused to administer anesthesia to the slave women and girls. He claimed that his procedures were ‘not painful enough to justify the trouble and risk attending the administration,’ but this claim rings hollow when one learns that Sims always administered anesthesia when he performed the perfected surgery to repair the vaginas of white women in Montgomery a few years later.”
— Excerpt From Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington, pg. 65
This book is mission critical for anybody who cares about racial health disparities, and wants to understand the history of it. If you work on racial health disparities or you work in health equity and you have not read this book, you have a serious blindspot. Medical Apartheid should be required reading for anybody in medicine, especially if you work with predominantly Black populations.
WATCH: Racism & Health In US Medicine, A Conversation with Harriet A. Washington
If you want to get up to speed on health equity, seek out the thought leaders and changemakers having conversations about it. In this video, AMA Chief Health Equity Officer Dr. Aletha Maybank and Health Affairs Director of Health Equity Vabren Watts, chat with someone who I think is the absolute GOAT when it comes to health equity: Harriet A.Washington.
This conversation is real — and really relevant. Working with Dr. Maybank’s team on the In Full Health initiative has been such an honor. You can watch or listen to this great conversation, and be sure to take away something new.
WATCH: The US Medical System is Still Haunted by Slavery
This mini-documentary by Vox goes into the history of medical terrorism on enslaved Black women. This is like a highlight reel for Dr. Washington’s book (mentioned above). They connect the history of institutional racism in medicine in the US to the present day — particularly toward Black women — beginning with doctors relying on slave owners for their income.
They call out Dr. Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology,” who enjoyed slicing and searing Black women’s vaginas to perfect gynecological surgery techniques. And they call out Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, for her eugenics ideology that led to Black women being sterilized by force once their children were no longer valuable as slaves.
Throughout all of these terrifying vignettes in this 8-minute mini-documentary, is woven the underlying (incorrect and dangerous) belief that permeated — and continues to permeate — medicine: that Black women (and Black people in general) feel no pain — or feel much less pain — than white people, and that this somehow “justifies” everything. They then connect all of this history to its current problem: Racism is still one of the reasons Black women are more likely to die in childbirth.
WATCH: Medical Mistrust with Karriem S. Watson
The video “Medical Mistrust” produced by CareContent and the University of Illinois Cancer Center is a quick primer on medical mistrust and the need for Black participants in clinical trial research.
Dr. Watson emphasizes that Black patients’ skepticism about the healthcare system and medical research are warranted. Too much research has been done on Black bodies and to Black bodies — and not for the Black individuals themselves.
LISTEN: The Seizing Freedom Podcast with Dr. Kidada E. Williams
I love this podcast in general, and I really appreciate the history and storytelling that historian Dr. Kidada E. Williams shares. She includes voices from historical archives and first-person narratives. It’s amazing.
While you’re riding home, listen to this episode, called “Dethroning Disease.” It addresses severe health disparities among the recently emancipated Black population. It’s a good history of those health issues like infant mortality and tuberculosis. Dr. Williams digs into how Black nurses and doctors went to communities and educated each other and — Black Americans rallied around these issues, and within 30 years practically doubled their life expectancy.
LISTEN: BackStory podcast
At its core, Backstory is a podcast featuring many historians discussing various issues in history.
I specifically recommend the episode “Another Burden To Bear: A History Of Racial Health Disparities In America.”
I like this podcast episode because it doesn’t just give a general overview about racial health disparities. It zeros in specifically on mental health and the historical root of mental health disparities for both Black and Indigenous communities. It tackles questions like, “Why are Black communities overdiagnosed for some mental illnesses, but underdiagnosed for others?” or “How did the US turning their back on Indigenous communities lead to certain health disparities?” Understanding these historical roots are important for anyone working in healthcare — or with diverse populations in any capacity.
LISTEN: The NAHSE Heartland Heart of Equity Podcast
Collaborating with the National Association of Health Service Executives Heartland Chapter has given me a front row seat to some incredible conversations between Black healthcare giants.
A great first episode for DEI officers or any healthcare leader who wants a more diverse leadership team is “The Role of the DEI Officer: Avoiding the Glass Cliff With Dr. Ron Wyatt (Pt. 1).”
While many healthcare organizations and systems rushed to hire a DEI leader in recent years, not all have thought about what needs to happen to help this person be successful. Dr. Ron Wyatt brings a different perspective to health equity work — and it could be key to helping you succeed in (or keep) your job.
ATTEND: National Health Equity Grand Rounds
The American Medical Association and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education have teamed up to present a quarterly grand rounds on health equity topics. You can register for the next session or watch a recording of the most recent session on the history of racism in healthcare.
Here’s one of my favorite mic-drop quotes from the February 2023 session:
“[Racist institutions] need to compost themselves and be reimagined. I don’t believe that institutions that were created through white dominance and supremacy can be tweaked to be vessels for equity…[You can’t just] replace the white male leadership power with brown female or other gendered people and hope you get a better outcome…the structures themselves are inherently oppressive.”
— Rupa Marya, MD, Founder of Deep Medicine Circle & Co-Founder of the Do No Harm Coalition
Making Health Equity a Year-Round Priority
This topic isn’t just important because it’s Black History Month. It’s important every month, but we’re going to spotlight it for Black History Month because now is when many people are looking for new resources and information.
Take time this month to learn what you can — but be ready to take it into your work throughout the rest of the year. Health disparities don’t go away on March 1. And neither should your efforts to continue learning and listening.