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Morehouse-CommonSpirit partnership aims to close medicine's race gap, train more Black doctors in COVID-19 era

Yvette Killian
·Producer
·4 min read

The COVID-19 outbreak has laid bare racial inequities in the U.S. healthcare system that have long existed and exacted a deadly toll on Blacks, while underscoring the need for more African-American doctors.

According to Centers for Disease Control data, COVID-19 is infecting and killing Black people at a far higher rate than any other group, largely because of pre-existing conditions and disparities that have existed for years.

One glaring deficit facing the healthcare system is the lack of Black doctors across the country — a condition that needs to be addressed, some observers say.

“Study after study has shown that where we have physicians and clinicians of color, that we get substantially better outcomes because of that,” Lloyd H. Dean, president and CEO of CommonSpirit, told Yahoo Finance Live in an interview. He emphasized the need for more Black doctors to improve outcomes in those communities.

“Having a physician that understands them culturally, that they can trust, we know that we get better compliance with discharge orders,” Dean added —calling the need to boost the number of Black doctors “an integral part” of solving the problem.

Scenario plays out ‘over and over again’

Florence Bolton, 85, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient, lies in her intensive care bed as family members attempt to FaceTime her at Roseland Community Hospital  on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Florence Bolton, 85, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient, lies in her intensive care bed as family members attempt to FaceTime her at Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Right now, approximately 5% of U.S. doctors in the country are Black, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Statistics also show that of the nearly 22,000 students accepted to medical school in 2019, only 7% are Black.

Toward that end, CommonSpirit — which operates over 700 care sites and 142 hospitals in 21 states — recently entered into a $100 million dollar partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine to train more Black doctors.

According to Dean, where there is are insufficient numbers of Black clinicians and physicians, members of the community are more reticent to seek healthcare. This amplifies suspicions dogging the COVID-19 mass vaccination effort, which is already off to a rough start and dogged by controversies about who gets inoculated first.

Meanwhile, stories such as that involving Dr. Susan Moore are also counterproductive. Moore’s story made national headlines when, as doctor herself suffering from COVID-19, she complained about bias at the Indianapolis hospital where she was being treated. She died shortly thereafter.

“Unfortunately, we're seeing over and over again of that same scenario playing out,” Dean told Yahoo Finance. “There is no question, no question, that patients want to see and to interact with physicians who represent their demographic, and who understand it and who they can trust.”

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, said the initiative with CommonSpirit will allow the school to double the number of physicians they matriculate.

She added that standardized test scores and grade point averages, which have historically been a barrier to students of color, should not be the barometer of what makes a competent doctor.

“None of those say that you're going to have the appropriate bedside manner to ensure that a patient gets the optimal level of care. None of those demonstrate that going to have the level of empathy,” Rice told Yahoo Finance.

“We believe we have a learning environment that is filled with cultural competence so, not only are we taking students who are academically fulfilled, but we are instilling in them the cultural confidence so that they can be the health care professionals that the nation needs,” the doctor added.

The Black Lives Matter movement has pushed conversations about race to the fore, and created an opportunity for whites to reflect on their own biases and perceptions of Black physicians, Dean added.

“All of society has accountability and a responsibility to be treated by a competent clinician, regardless of color and this bias of color, we see it over and over again, and it's unfortunate. Because there is just no quantitative or qualitative justification for it,” he said.

Yvette Killian is a producer for Yahoo Finance’s On The Move. Follow her on Twitter at @yvette_killian

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