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Medical professionals discuss inequities in health care at UCLA symposium

UCLA hosted its 25th annual health care symposium, in which a range of medical professionals spoke on topics including racism, health disparities, mental health and incarceration in health care. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Anushka Chakrabarti and Natalie Weber

Feb. 21, 2021 1:05 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis but it is important to consider racial and ethnic disparities in the health care industry, UCLA professors said at a virtual event on Saturday.

The 25th annual UCLA Healthcare Symposium hosted medical professionals for a series of discussions on racism, health disparities, mental health and incarceration on Feb. 13 and 20. More than 230 participants attended the event over Zoom, including high school, undergraduate and graduate students.

Damon Tweedy, a Duke University School of Medicine associate psychiatry professor, said that with so few people of color represented in medical professions, doctors need to be more aware of situations that may make patients uncomfortable.

Black people make up a little more than 12% of the U.S. population, but only 5% of practicing physicians are Black, Tweedy said.

“Every patient carries an invisible bag of experiences, so we should ask, ‘Is there anything about this environment or encounter that is uncomfortable for you?’” he said.

Tweedy said his experience in medical school did little to cover medical issues surrounding race, but he is happy to see a shift occurring in medical schools today. For example, some medical schools have implemented first-year courses that dive into issues of health disparity, he said.

“There’s a new mentality of those going into health care from trying to make the best lifestyle for themselves to students wanting to tackle social issues,” he said.

Chandra Ford, a UCLA community health sciences professor and founding director of the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice and Health, said at the event that it is important to talk about racism in health care even during a public health crisis.

For example, health departments did not collect or report COVID-19 data related to race and ethnicity at the beginning of the pandemic, which hid disparities, Ford said.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Black Americans are almost three times more likely to be hospitalized by COVID-19 than white, non-Hispanic people.

Ford added that solutions require a focus on equity and can include recognizing historical injustices and providing resources to those affected.

David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, said he saw disparities in his early experiences in academia.

Hayes-Bautista said he felt discouraged to complete research on Latino health because when he was first hired as faculty, the dean at the time told him nobody would care about the findings of the study.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on minority groups because they comprise a large percentage of nonclinical essential workers, many of whom did not receive resources at the start of the pandemic, Hayes-Bautista said.

Hayes-Bautista added that the culmination of the pandemic, the previous presidential administration’s immigration policies and the lack of support for minority groups contributed to disparities.

However, the issues of racism and discrimination are not unique to the pandemic, some professors said.

Paula Braveman, a family and community medicine professor at UC San Francisco, said socioeconomic factors can act as stressors and negatively affect a person’s health.

Braveman added that while the U.S. spends more money than most countries on health care, its overall health falls short.

Braveman said the solution to the issues of disparities in the U.S. requires a cultural shift from health responsibilities being placed on an individual to making health a societal issue by promoting safer and healthier neighborhoods, reducing poverty and promoting education.

Jasmine Deng, a first-year medical student and a member of the speaker relations committee for the event, said the event was meant to highlight issues surrounding current events, health disparities and racial/ethnic health disparities in the context of COVID-19 and the pandemic.

Deng said she hopes the event inspires attendees to push for changes.

“I just hope that people have been able to take away a lot from our speakers … and hopefully this is a spark to more conversation and more action moving forward,” Deng said.

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Anushka Chakrabarti | News editor
Chakrabarti is currently the 2021-2022 News editor. She was previously the 2020-2021 assistant News editor for the science and health beat, and she was a former contributor for online. She is also a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
Chakrabarti is currently the 2021-2022 News editor. She was previously the 2020-2021 assistant News editor for the science and health beat, and she was a former contributor for online. She is also a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
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