A Student's Perspective: Triumph in the Face of Turmoil
Triumph in the Face of Turmoil:
The African American story in the United States is one of turmoil and triumph. The first African slaves were said to have been brought to America in 1619 to the Jamestown Colony. Historians have found that enslaved Africans arrived in North America as early as the 1500s. The turmoil of slavery lasted until1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment could be seen as a triumph at least until the Jim Crow laws which were established as early as 1865. These laws again attempted to oppress the African population that was still seen as tools and not as human beings. Not until 1964 and the passing of the Civil Rights Act did African Americans no longer have to “legally” deal with segregation. The Civil Rights Act started a chain reaction of acts to follow such as the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and later the Fair Housing Act in 1968; but what good did all of these acts do for the African American population? The acts listed have opened many doors for people of color, but the stain of slavery, segregation, and violence has not been washed away and can still be seen today in many aspects.
One of the major places that disparity between the other ethnic groups and the African American population is in the healthcare system. Despite the many healthcare disparities that include: asthma, pregnancy-related complications, obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and others, we as African American health providers and future providers can make a difference. I will address the problem of healthcare disparities through the education of patients and other providers with a major emphasis on the younger population, the involvement and development of young African American healthcare providers, and the commitment to the community through the giving back of time, talents, and involvement in politics.
In Allan S. Noonan’s article, Improving the Health of African Americans in the USA: an Overdue Opportunity for Social Justice, he wrote, “after 250 years of social segregation and discrimination, current health data confirm that African Americans are the least healthy ethnic group in the USA. Although the resources and policies to eliminate disparities exist in the USA, there has been an inadequate long-term commitment to successful strategies and to the funding necessary to achieve health equity.” African Americans make up 13% of the US population, but despite being a minority in the population they are three times as likely to die from asthma and pregnancy-related complication, two times as likely to die from prostate cancer, eight times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV and nine times as likely to die from HIV. This trend continues with African Americans being forty-four percent more likely to die from a stroke, forty percent is more likely to die from breast cancer, twenty-five percent more likely to die from heart disease, fifty-two percent more likely to die from cervical cancer and finally twenty-three percent more likely to be obese. Further, the likelihood of an early death does not stop with adults in the African American population, but it also affects children who are at a greater risk to die as an infant due to SIDS, asthma, and obesity. Furthermore, African American children are sixty-one percent more likely to attempt suicide while in high school.
The healthcare disparities that are creating turmoil in the African American population can be alleviated first through the education of patients and other providers. Education is one of the major missing pieces in making the African American population healthier. As a practicing PA it would be my responsibility to educate every patient I come into contact with regarding the many risk factors that plague our community. Not only would I educate my patients about the risk factors, but I would also show them how to reduce the likelihood of being impacted by those diseases through changes in lifestyle, eating habits, and promoting exercise. Further, education of patients or potential patients should not end at the facility where one practice, but should also go to other places such as schools, assisted living homes, and churches. Further, it is also important to educate the younger population because they are the future.
If we are able to change some of the lifestyle choices and instill a healthier perspective on life at a young age, the generations to come will become healthier. In continuation, it is also important to educate other health care professionals because this will allow the message of a healthier lifestyle to spread more rapidly. It also will open the eyes of healthcare providers from other ethnic groups to the disparities affecting African Americans who otherwise may just see a patient with illness and treat that patient without seeing the entire picture of ethnic disparity in healthcare. Education of healthcare providers can be implemented in staff meetings and in staff run organizations with the sole purpose of educating patients and staff members.
Moreover, the involvement and development of young African American healthcare providers are two of the most important aspects of addressing the disparities affecting our community. As a practicing PA I would implement both high school and college clubs with a focus on service, education, and development of future African American Healthcare providers. The youth club would be an extension of the staff run organization. This would allow students to receive health care experience through shadowing and also helping with events such as blood pressure screenings.
In conclusion, without being consistently politically active our community will continue to face healthcare disparity. It is extremely important to be informed about all political issues, but especially the ones that will affect the health of the African American community. Despite the transitioning between turmoil and triumph the African American people have been resilient regardless of what they face. Despite the impact of slavery as well as systemic and political racism, we will be able to overcome healthcare disparities through education, uplifting of our youth, and being politically active.
Micah Culbreth, PA-S University of the Cumberlands Northern Kentucky Campus