Conference sheds light on racial disparities and prejudice in the medical field


When Serena Williams gave birth to her daughter in 2017, she informed her health care providers about her history of bleeding disorders and that she had trouble breathing after giving birth.

Despite this, her suppliers first sent her back Needs. She was eventually rushed to emergency surgery and bedridden for six weeks after giving birth. Kathryn Reed, Vice President for Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement and Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said Williams’ experience is not uncommon for black women and other minorities, and is the result of racial bias in health care.

“If it happens to him, we can say almost conclusively that it happens to many patients outside of this field,” Reed said.

Reed presented Thursday on Zoom and in person at “Race and … Lecture Series.” The series is part of the “Race and Social Determinants of Equity, Health and Well-being Cluster Hire Initiativethat Ann Cudd, Provost and Senior Vice-Chancellor, and Anantha Shekhar, Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences, launched in 2020.

The conference highlighted the underrepresentation of minorities in the healthcare system as well as racial and socioeconomic disparities in fetal death rates.

Reed said the quality of health care is significantly worse for racial and ethnic minority populations due to historical and current social and economic inequalities, as well as biases, stereotypes and biases of health care providers. Reed said greater diversity training for providers and representation of minority groups, particularly among PAs, are needed to improve conditions.

“These beliefs, of course, started when black people were enslaved in this country. And so the fact that he’s persevering now is very, very clear that we’re not in a post-racial society,” Reed said. “And also very, very clearly that we need to do a better job of educating our students and getting them to unlearn some of these things before they start caring for us, right or for our families and the people we love. .”

Reed said it’s crucial for institutions like Pitt to create opportunities and spaces for typically underrepresented medical students to enter the medical field.

“We need to do a better job of attracting more diverse students, graduating them with success, so they can come forward and be healthcare providers for people like Serena.”

Underrepresented in Medicine, or URiM, is a term used by the American Medical Association to refer to racial and ethnic populations that are significantly underrepresented in the medical field compared to the general population, especially black, Latinx, and Native Americans, according to Reed.

the National PA Certification Commission‘ 2020 Statistical profile found that Blacks, Latinxes, and Native Americans were significantly underrepresented among physician assistants compared to the general makeup of these groups within the U.S. population. Reed said several barriers specific to black and brown communities, including lack of early exposure to the PA profession, cost of PA education, admissions processes, and a lack of Access to support in PA education and career processes leads to this under-representation.

Dr Onome Oghifobibi, neonatal medicine fellow at Medicine Schoolit is Department of Pediatrics, highlighted statistics in Allegheny County and the United States regarding infant mortality and premature births.

He said the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.6% in 2020, which is “pretty low,” but there are still high rates in different parts of the country, especially among black women. He also noted that the main causes of infant mortality are premature births, low birth weight, birth defects and trauma.

“Infant mortality represents the overall health and well-being of our community and reflects maternal living and working conditions and the social environmental conditions in which people are born, live, work and age,” said Oghifobibi.

Oghifobibi said Allegheny County is one of the areas with high infant mortality and premature birth rates, with significant racial disparities. According to March of Dimes, from 2017 to 2019, preterm births to black infants were almost twice as high as other races in Allegheny County, and this rate was worse than the national average.

“Unfortunately, I believe infant outcomes in our county are complex, and the reasons are essentially deeply rooted in the historical context of the city and state in terms of segregation, racism, and resource distribution,” said Oghifobibi.“Now, if we look at the causes of infant mortality, as I said, movements of prematurity, there are also significant racial differences.”

According to Oghifobibi, the Federal Infant Mortality Review Program, the Federal Bureau of Maternal and Child Health and the US Administration of Health Resources and Services aim to combat infant mortality by assessing the social, economic and cultural factors associated with these deaths.

“The goal of MRIF is to reduce fetal, neonatal and infant deaths by improving community resources and service delivery systems”, said Oghifobibi. “It includes interdisciplinary groups of professionals and community leaders.”

Over the past two years, Oghifobibi and others have worked to establish the FIMR program in Allegheny County by collecting data and engaging with community members. He said they have created a committee for this program which plans to meet from next month and will assess morality rates from January 2022.

He said that the presence of several health care systems in the region, such as UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, Heritage Valley Health System, Health St. Clair and the midwifery center made this process easier.

“So we have a lot of people who deal with women and children in the community and we try to get everybody around the table and have a conversation about looking at issues and issues and trying to find solutions”, said Oghifobibi.


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