GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 1

This is a guest post by Natasha Puri, PhD Candidate, UCSF Tetrad Graduate Program

In this class we have focused more on racism in medicine, but it has encouraged me to apply what we have talked about to research as well. When I read the very first paper for our class, Racial Categories in Medical Practice; How Useful are They? in PLoS Medicine, one thing that stood out to me was the author list. Many of the authors were experts and/or students in both STEM subjects like Cellular and Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, and so on as well as in fields like African American Studies, Women Studies, or Sociology. Many biologists like to think that they are searching for fundamental truths, but how honest are these when they are not considered within the context of our society? An example that comes to mind is the Covid vaccine. I hear people in my field talk about the vaccines simply as this amazing scientific achievement. And yes, the fact that the vaccines are so effective and started being distributed in the US so early is remarkable. But what is glaringly less spoken about in these circles is the inequities in the distribution of this life-saving scientific achievement, why many people of color have been unable to access the vaccine, or the reasons why some have been hesitant to get it. I think that it is too easy for scientists to brush off the people who don’t trust science, but we need to look more deeply into the roots of the distrust, and be more active in making research accessible, and transparent too. The paper also mentioned epidemiologists and other scientists who propose multi-level models for understanding racial disparities in health outcomes, from society to an individual’s lifestyle to the cellular level. This supports the idea that a holistic and interdisciplinary education is so valuable, especially when studying in health and medicine-related fields.

My last thought is that if we are to continue to educate ourselves and improve the health outcomes of historically marginalized groups, this research and others that focus on racism in medicine and science need to be well-supported and well-funded. That means that this research must get support in particular from faculty and research institutions themselves. While it is invaluable (and necessary) for medical and PhD students to learn the painful story of the Black experience in science and medicine, our professors need to learn these truths as well. I hope that Universities can start making more classes like this available not only to students, but available and mandatory for faculty as well.

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