Doctors fighting racial health disparities face threats, harassment

Dr. Aletha Maybank joined the American Medical Association as its first chief health equity officer in 2019, determined to fight racial disparities in medicine. 

That work grew more urgent in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic exposed deadly inequities in health care, and as George Floyd’s murder turned the country’s attention to the pervasiveness of systemic racism. The AMA issued a statement decrying racism as an urgent threat to public health, and Maybank focused on the organization’s efforts to “dismantle racist and discriminatory policies and practices across all of health care.” That included supporting training for medical workers on implicit bias, as well as advocating for solutions to problems that had not traditionally been a focus for the organization, such as housing inequities and police violence.  

But by the fall of 2021, these equity initiatives were facing growing pushback from pundits, think-tank researchers and doctors — both liberal and conservative — who contended that the medical organization had overstepped its mission of supporting health care professionals and was now embracing a “woke” ideology. And out of public view, that backlash was turning vicious — particularly for Maybank. 

Dr. Aletha Maybank faced threats after speaking about racism in medicine.Courtesy of the American Medical Association

After the AMA issued a communication guide last October describing words and phrases that doctors should avoid so as not to offend certain groups of patients, messages directed at Maybank, who is Black, escalated from trolling on social media to threats of violence. Maybank said she arrived home to discover someone had spray-painted a vulgar death threat on her front door in New York. The AMA hired a security detail for her and scrubbed her online presence in an attempt to restore her privacy.

“When it comes that close, it’s really scary,” Maybank, a physician who is also an AMA senior vice president, said of the harassment. “But I think it’s just really important that people do know about it — I’m not the only one.” 

Over the past two years, the medical establishment has placed an unprecedented focus on addressing the barriers to medical care, and the poor health outcomes that people of color frequently face, according to Maybank and a dozen other doctors and academics who are doing this work. But these medical professionals, researchers and advocates have also experienced unprecedented pushback, ranging from lawsuits and attacks on cable news to harassment and death threats.

The barrage of criticism is the latest extension of the national furor over the teaching of racial history and the role of racism in American society, sometimes simplistically summed up as “critical race theory,” which has forced educators out of their jobs and overwhelmed school boards with legal claims. It’s also an extension of the harassment and threats public health officials have faced over pandemic mitigation policies. 

Doctors and academics working on anti-racist initiatives say they’re exhausted and on edge — particularly after an extremist group protested outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in January. The demonstrators

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Faust Information: Fixing Racial Disparities in Healthcare

In this video, MedPage Today’s editor-in-chief, Jeremy Faust, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Clinic in Boston, and Utibe Essien, MD, MPH, of the University of Pittsburgh, examine racial disparities in healthcare amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how we can accomplish pharmacoequity.

The adhering to is a transcript of their remarks:

Faust: Hello, it is Jeremy Faust, editor-in-chief of MedPage These days. I’m incredibly happy to be joined these days by my good friend and colleague Dr. Utibe Essien, who is an assistant professor of medication at the College of Pittsburgh, in which he research overall health disparities. In addition, I have been actually fascinated by some items that he led perform on in JAMA, as properly as Health and fitness Affairs – truly great parts. And he’s almost persuaded me to do Bow Tie Friday, but not pretty yet. Dr. Essien, thank you so a lot for joining us.

Essien: Hey, thanks so substantially for having me, Dr. Faust.

Faust: So tell us what “pharmacoequity” is and how that time period arrived about.

Essien: Yeah, you know, for the past – I guess now practically a decade or so – I’ve definitely been passionate about hoping to have an understanding of why there are health disparities in our society. All throughout professional medical university, even in advance of then as a pre-med pupil volunteering in crisis departments in New York Town exactly where I qualified and grew up, I would see treatment becoming offered in distinctive areas for unique individuals — especially these who appear like me and my spouse and children.

I came out of med faculty pondering I was likely to be this social justice warrior and assistance preserve the day one affected individual at a time, but actually recognized just how challenging that was to do on a working day-to-working day foundation. With so lots of other matters, the social determinants of overall health playing a role, but particularly building confident that sufferers experienced accessibility to the treatment that they want to be equipped to have the highest excellent of lifetime came up so usually time and time once more.

And now in a study profession, I’ve had a opportunity to truly review that and truly attempt and comprehend what are the drivers, the variables, that make it so patients who are from very poor socioeconomic statuses, from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, residing in rural neighborhoods just will not have entry to the highest top quality of treatment that they have to have.

Faust: Prior to the pandemic you had been targeted a whole lot on cardiovascular therapeutics. What is actually the problem there, and did the Cost-effective Care Act signify development there? Wherever are we in conditions of that?

Essien: Of course, exactly. My work focuses on the cardiovascular house — specifically around atrial fibrillation, which is, you know, the most prevalent heart rhythm problem in the earth. But regardless of whether you happen to be on the lookout at Afib or you

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