Addressing Health Disparities: Clinical Insights on Race and Social Justice

Crowd drawing showing people of color

A Webinar Series Offering Clinical Perspectives on Racial and Social Justice Issues

It’s no secret that racial and social disparities continue to affect the health of our communities across the United States. With increased attention resulting from the high-profile deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement and the growing inequities stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekly Harvard Medical School web series, Addressing Health Disparities: Clinical Insights on Race and Social Justice seeks to explore how race and racism affect the health of our communities.

Led by J. Kevin Tucker, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Cheryl R. Clark, MD, ScD, director of the Health Equity Research & Intervention Center for Community Health and Health Equity and hospitalist at the Brigham Health Hospital Medicine Unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, this series features important discussions with experts, academics, and advocates to explain how racism causes and perpetuates disparities in health outcomes.

Exploring the Link Between Health Care Disparities and Social Determinants

The health outcomes of African Americans and Latinos are likely to be worse compared to those of white Americans. Violence fueled by poverty, poor education, joblessness and hopelessness are some of the examples of public health problems that medical professionals should be aware of, as well as the correlations between poor communities of color and a host of other health determinants—higher rates of asthma and respiratory disorders due to poor air quality, high-stress conditions, cardiovascular diseases, substance use disorder, alcoholism, and domestic violence.

Racism is part of the American experience for people of color since the founding of the country. We have made strides towards a more just society, but we have a long way to go, says Dr. J. Kevin Tucker. “As a medical profession, we have to be introspective as to whether or not we have done and are doing our part,” he said.

This webinar series offers clinical and actionable insights on race in a variety of disease states and health complications, such as cancer care, organ impairments, diabetes, and maternal mortality.

Frontline Perspectives on Disease States and Their Underlying Problems

Yet, social justice is much larger than an issue pertaining to a single disease state or medical complication. Overall injustice leads to worse health outcomes. As Dr. Tucker notes, to overcome health disparities, everyone must have access to basic needs, education, and health care. While recent strides are moving ever so slowly towards creating a more just society, we’ve yet to reach this equilibrium.

While there is a correlation between poverty and decreased access to health care, it does not fully explain the determinants of health experienced by people of color. “We want people to understand some of the nuances of why these disparities exist, so we can come up with solutions that will help to drive down some of these health determinants,” says Dr. Tucker.

For example, in a recent webinar in the series, The Use of Race in Cardiovascular and Kidney Disease, panelist Nwamaka Eneanya, MD, MPH explored how false racial perceptions affect clinical care and how communities systematically and generationally denied access to housing in prosperous neighborhoods  continue to have worse health outcomes.

In another session, Sachin H. Jain, MD, MBA, the president and CEO of SCAN Group and SCAN Health Plan discussed his paper, The Racist Patient in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Jain’s webinar also explored a social justice model of conduct and how institutions can create centers for activism in the face of racist behavior.

Appearing in upcoming sessions will be experts such as Rev. Traci Blackmon, the associate general minister from the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio and Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH, FACP; the former chief medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health and past president of the American Public Health Association.

There are lots of ways in which the fight for social justice ties to better health, notes Dr. Tucker. “Until people have access to good jobs, access to a living wage, it is likely that we’re going to continue to see many of the same health disparities.”

Determining the Way Forward – We Hope You’ll Join Us for these Important Discussions

Ensuring all the basic needs of life will ultimately lead to better health outcomes. Nonetheless, as this series will investigate, to overcome these current and complex health care disparities, we must first recognize the problem and then determine possible solutions. To best understand the impact of health determinants on communities, we must recognize the scope of the problems through accurate and robust data. Then, institutions, government, health care organizations, and individuals must use this data to collaborate and generate possible solutions.

This is hard work. Race and racism are not comfortable topics. In light of how racism affects health care, how things are changing, and what work still needs to be done, we hope you will join us for these challenging, but necessary conversations.

Addressing Health Disparities: Clinical Insights on Race and Social Justice webinars air live on Wednesdays at 1pm ET. Previous sessions of this series can be watched on our Health Disparities Resources for Providers page. These sessions do provide continuing medical education (CME) credits for providers.

To register for next week’s session, please sign up on our Upcoming Webinars for Providers webpage.

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