By Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL) –Blackdoctor.org
Visiting the doctor can be daunting. For many patients, having a doctor they can relate to makes all the difference in getting regular checkups and maintaining healthy lifestyles.
Studies show that patients are more comfortable seeking treatment from doctors who look like them and are much more likely to follow courses of treatment prescribed by health experts with a shared cultural heritage.
Yet a major barrier to African Americans getting the medical care we need is the lack of Black doctors in our communities.
While African Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, we represent only 4 percent of the physician workforce, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ 2014 Diversity in the Physician Workforce Report.
The health disparities in the African American community are particularly profound as blacks have high rates of many adverse health conditions. Across the medical spectrum, from cancer to diabetes, from hypertension to stroke, blacks are overrepresented and, often, under treated.
Among the painful remnants of the Tuskegee study is that for many it left behind an enduring legacy of mistrust of the medical establishment in the African American community. The cultural mistrust – while rooted in a painful legacy of the past – is why diversity in medicine is so vital to addressing national health disparities.
Increasing the ranks of black physicians means Congress should invest in expanding STEM education programs so more African American students have the opportunity to pursue an education in science, technology, engineering and math.
In my Illinois district, I launched a STEM Academy to give students hands-on exposure to STEM fields and encourage them to pursue STEM careers. I also launched a STEM Council comprising top regional experts to develop best practices for training a diverse next generation STEM workforce.
As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, I am working to promote similar initiatives on the national level to help open the doors of America’s medical schools to black students.
A medical student population that reflects our country’s population will create a pipeline of diverse doctors to our communities which will, in turn, put all Americans on track to live healthier lives.