By ANDRÉ BLACKMAN
There I was, my 10th-grade science fair. My mother made
sure I had a tie that fit properly and a shirt that was perfectly pressed. I stood among my peers
with our cardboard presentation displays highlighting what we did to make it to
this point. I was a little nervous but also extremely proud of myself and
excited to see the looks on the judge’s faces when they saw what my project was
of Enzymes on DNA”
Boom. Oh, I wasn’t doing something that many people had seen
already — I was working inside an NIH facility with a brilliant scientist
mentor/coach, to get this done. The memories of taking multiple modes of
transportation after school throughout the week for what seemed like forever
wore me down enough to make sure that I knew this was going to be worth it. And
then after the judges were introduced to all of our concepts and families
poured throughout the gymnasium to see what we all came up with — now was the
moment of truth.
Sweaty palms and teenage anxiety wouldn’t deter me. First place goes to….oh ok, yeah of
course, they deserved that. They worked really hard I’m sure. Second place goes to….oh wow, I didn’t make
second place? At least, I’ll get something. After a third place winner was
announced and the applause faded. I looked, stunned, over at my mother in the
audience whose face was covered in tears. I was ready for the night to be over.
Did I not wear the right tie? Did I seem
too confident? Not confident enough? The questions would consume me until
later that evening when my science teacher told me that the judges thought I cheated or didn’t actually do any
of the work.
In biology, it is clear that access to more genes leads to greater overall health. This is true because it allows for a greater likelihood that a genetic defect can be compensated by a gene from a different pool. This is the reason that inbreeding leads to more genetic diseases. This same phenomenon exists in social science. Complex social networks are healthier than more narrow (constrained) ones. Dr. Amar Dhand of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Department of Neurology has, for example, shown that people are more likely to get to the emergency room in time to receive a clot busting therapy for stroke if they are part of a more complex, rather than constrained, social network.
The probable reason for this effect is the diversity of ideas that are available in the complex social networks is greater than in the narrow ones. Despite these advantages, human beings tend to resist diversity, depending instead on a competing drive to create cliques and clubs. In Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land, she attempts to understand what she sees as a paradox. Why do people vote in manners that seem to be contrary to their own self interest? In fact this is not a paradox, but rather simply a competition between two deeply ingrained human traits; one biological and the other sociological.
The phenomenon of professional burnout is a case in point. It is generally defined as a sense of cynicism, depersonalization and ineffectiveness. Some believe that we are in the midst of an epidemic of burnout, affecting as many as half of medical doctors, for example. The causes of burnout are protean, but at the core of the problem is the perception of unfairness; that one is the subject of a form of bias or prejudice whereby certain resources are unfairly distributed by a powerful force, such as the employer or the government. Any individual or group may be subject to this perception. Much of the conflict that is being expressed around the world can be understood as an analogue to professional burnout, in other words, caused at its root by a perception of unfairness. So what is perception and from where does it arise?
I am thrilled that Health 2.0 is today announcing a new program aimed at improving diversity in the field of health technology. This will run all year (and hopefully beyond) and will start at the Health 2.0 10th Annual Fall Conference on Sept 25-8, where we will host a group drawn from populations that are underrepresented in the health technology field. There’ll also be a dedicated session on the topic on Sept 26 at 12.15pm that has been generously supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Matthew Holt
The Problem: There is a lack of diversity among health technology innovators and a shortage of technologies that meet the needs of minority audiences. Technology is a powerful tool that can help improve health outcomes and alleviate problems within our current health system. As our society grows increasingly diverse and gaps in health among different populations increase, there is an urgency to develop solutions for underserved communities and diversify the population of innovators who are creating these solutions.
The Conference Support Program: The Diversity in Health Technology Conference Support Program, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, encourages individuals interested in diversifying the health technology field and who are interested in, or currently engaged with, health technology, to attend Health 2.0’s 10th Annual Fall Conference (Sept 25-8). Individuals from populations that are underrepresented in the health technology field are particular encouraged to apply. The conference support will include complimentary access to the annual conference. Conference support recipients will be required to attend the “Diversity in Health Technology” workshop. The workshop will serve as the formal kickoff to a year-long campaign focused on engaging more diverse voices in health technology. Conference support recipients must also attend and participate in two webinars hosted by Health 2.0 to further review the diversity in technology issue, submit a post-conference summary to Health 2.0 of the individual’s conference experience that Health 2.0 may use for a white paper on the diversity issue and a summary about specific activities the individual plans to do over the next year to address diversity in technology.
For more information and to apply to join the program, visit the Diversity in Health Technology site.
I am an emergency room physician who has worked at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital for 17 years. I am also the first black woman to ever be hired as a faculty member, and thus have had the opportunity to teach students and doctors in training. Given that 85% of the patients of the 120,000 patients that cross our threshold annually are black, my hiring carried enormous symbolic weight.
Beyond the symbolism, I’ve found a real effect on patient care. There are a few earlier studies which suggest that patients prefer doctors who look like them if given the opportunity.
Though we can’t yet confirm that physicians and patients of the same race improve health for minorities , we can still argue that increasing diversity in the healthcare professions is a worthy goal. We must move to a place where physicians can comfortably care for people of all cultures and patients can feel comfortable being cared for physicians from different cultures.
In my own experience, African-American grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts all want to give me a hug when they see me walk in the room to treat them or their loved ones: “Go ahead sister,” they might say, “we’re so glad and proud to see you”. I have also had many black patients tell me they were more comfortable talking with me about their history of abuse or addiction. That kind of rapport leads to better care and a healthier population.
If the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Abigail Fisher in Fisher vs. The University of Texas today, which they did not, opportunities for physicians of color who could establish that rapport might have been significantly diminished.
To eliminate or significantly weaken affirmative action, which would have been the result of a Fisher victory, would deal a significant blow to the ability of undergraduate programs to recruit and create a diverse student population—some of whom will continue on to medical school. To be sure, that blow would weaken medical schools nationwide.