This piece was submitted from a member of our enthusiastic community of readers. If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, check out our how-to post to learn more.
Written by Dr. Patricia Uddyback-Wilkerson
I want to begin by saying, the need for more African-American doctors is imperative. With roughly 4 percent of physicians and surgeons being African American, there is a significant correlation between a diverse doctor workforce, the life expectancy gap and negative health outcomes of people of color. Proactive and intentional partnerships similar to major health care system, Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and Meharry Medical College are taking actionable steps to close that representation gap — especially in inner cities like Detroit.
The health disparities African American men, women and children face have plagued the community and long been ignored by major institutions. Research shows that African Americans have higher rates of hypertension, cancer, and infant mortality, among other things than their counterparts. A tumultuous history between African Americans and medical professionals is fairly known, but also rarely acknowledged. From the Tuskegee syphilis experiment to Black mothers being ignored while having difficulty with childbirth. These problems span several decades and have the same root of the mistrust between Black patients and non-Black doctors. For this reason, representation in medicine is paramount and can be the difference between life and death. African-American physicians are more than a rarity, they are a necessity for our community overall to thrive.
Partnerships like the DMC and Meharry ensure that African American students have the resources and access to flourish as medical professionals while providing an opportunity for residents in Detroit — the U.S. city with the highest percentage of African Americans — to be treated by someone of similar background. Meharry has been educating students in medicine and higher education since 1876, providing them with an excellent education, training in the health sciences and conducting research that fosters the elimination of health disparities. Since its inception over 100 years ago, the School of Medicine has produced thousands of African-American healthcare professionals. Meharry’s mission to educate African Americans to serve the underserved and belief that health equity is the key to alleviate suffering make it the perfect institution for the DMC to collaborate with.
The DMC is a top-tier network of hospitals that has been recognized nationally for its commitment to providing quality healthcare and creating a “Community Built on Care.” In partnership with Meharry Medical College, the DMC will do its part to ensure that it offers patients in southeast Michigan health care that is reflective of the community. This collaboration will serve as an example to the nation on how to successfully pursue diversity in health care and make a difference that has a generational effect.
This partnership, announced during the start of National Minority Health Month, will work aggressively to do its part to close the health care gap, increase longevity, reduce early-onset chronic illness, and ultimately create a safe space for the community to receive medical care and strengthen the overall health of the African American community. This transfers to more open dialogue, more frequent visits and holistic health care that acknowledges and respects the socio-cultural background of patients. We are taking the necessary steps to foster a trusting relationship between the community and health care professionals.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that only African American doctors can treat African American patients; however, the more diversity among doctors, physicians and health care providers overall will better accommodate the undeniable diverse patient population in the U.S.
To the DMC and to Meharry Medical College, diversity is more than just a buzz word. It is a value that we pursue daily to make our communities excel in all areas—health care access and comfort is just the start.
Dr. Patricia Uddyback-Wilkerson is the Vice President, Academic & Community Affairs at The Detroit Medical Center. She is integral in the recently announced partnership between Detroit Medical Center and Meharry Medical College which will provide additional medical education and training for Meharry students in the Metro Detroit area. The plan is that it will increase the number of minority medical students, becoming a model for similar partnerships and ultimately expand the representation of African-American doctors overall.