“Bridging Health Equity Across Communities” is the theme of the 2017 National Minority Health Month in April – orchestrated annually by the US. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the Black Medical Association, blacks remain disproportionately diagnosed with serious illnesses and at a more advanced stage. Sobering statistics still confirm higher mortality rates for African Americans for stroke, heart disease, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and homicide.
The “health bridging” theme articulates the need to raise awareness of efforts across health, education, justice, housing, transportation and employment sectors to address factors known as social determinants of health; specifically, influences of environment as well as social and economic conditions.
The IU School of Nursing is a leading proponent of that broad-perspective mindset, intensifying minority recruitment and efforts to continue to build into curriculum student-community engagement that create better understanding, sensitivity and rapport across the board.
Improved health in minority communities directly correlates with increasing health care providers of color coupled with enhancement of cultural competency throughout the profession, says Marsha Baker, director of diversity and enrichment, IU School of Nursing Indianapolis Center for Academic Affairs.
“More representation of minorities in the health profession will contribute to reduction of disparities,” Baker contends, adding, “The biggest push is to increase diversity among health care team members which will improve the accuracy of health information and raise levels of trust in information and recommendations provided by health professionals.”
Baker said cultural competency is critical, particularly as part of the curriculum because many health care providers have not identified of their own misperceptions and biases about patients of different races, genders, ethnicities, nationalities, religions or sexual orientation.
Baker said, “Not necessarily all, but many health providers’ perceptions are developed from what they were taught in school coupled with their own life experiences. While some widely held may be true, many are myths that hinder minority patients receiving the best possible care.”
A 2015 article in the Huffington Post entitled: “White Doctors in Training Believe Some Disturbing Stuff About Black Patients” corroborates that view, reporting that:
- 40 percent of first-year medical students and 25 percent of residents believed the myth that Blacks’ skin is thicker than whites
- Twenty nine percent of first year students believed Blacks’ blood coagulates more quickly than whites
- 21 percent of first-year students believe Blacks age more slowly than whites
- One out of five first-year students believe Blacks have a stronger immune system
According to that same report, in terms of factual or true biological differences, just 49 percent of first-year students and 46 percent of residents believe whites are less likely to have a stroke than are blacks. Only 25 percent of first-year students and 29 percent of residents believe the fact that Blacks have denser, stronger bones. Just under half of first-year students believe that Blacks are less likely to contract spinal cord disease.
Baker reiterates the urgent need to hire more faculty of color, enroll and graduate more nurses of color as well as promote curriculum and community interaction that broaden understanding and sensitivity of all health professionals to diverse groups.
The theory of better care through more diverse health care providers is the focus of a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology that found Black patients were 20 percent less likely to die or have major complications if they received treatment at a racially diverse hospital, as opposed to a hospital with less diversity.
Being understood by a doctor or nurse is key to receiving better medical care.
One of the challenges in preparing high school students interested in nursing is the rigorous admission testing. Once enrolled, curriculum is demanding. Lower levels of science and math prior to admission is a problem for underrepresented populations – particularly international students. IUPUI is addressing the issue.
Baker said, “We’ve started a year-long pilot program centered on theme-learning community involving 25 incoming IUPUI pre-nursing students. The TLC will consist of a faculty, an academic advisor, and student mentors. My goal for the TLC is to provide hands-on learning opportunities to help pre-nursing students acclimate to IUPUI, prepare to apply to IUSON, learn about the necessary skills to be successful in nursing school, and examine diverse perspectives within the nursing community through science and volunteering.”