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UB Jacobs School of Medicine launches program to combat racism in surgery and medicine

Posted at 1:49 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 13:49:22-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The University at Buffalo is launching a new initiative in an effort to make healthcare more inclusive.

It’s called the Anti-Racism and Health Care Equity Initiative and it kicked off with Dr. Cornel West as its inaugural speaker Wednesday afternoon.

It was created to address racism in medicine and surgery — two ideas many don’t often associate.

“Gynecology, surgery, infections disease… there have been accounts throughout our American history where African American communities that were vulnerable were taken advantage of,” said Dr. Karole Collier, a 4th year medical student at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine.

She’s applying to become a general surgeon and said a lack of representation in the surgical field drove her studies.

“We don’t have a black female surgical chair in this country,” she said.

In fact, only 5% of physicians and surgeons in the United States are Black.

Collier said that’s, in late part, because of the barriers to entry when it comes to studying medicine.

“The institution of medical education has historically had barriers,” she said. “Barriers of entry with education, barriers of entry with cost, barriers of entry with the ability to focus in on studies that have largely been for the elite.”

Keyonna Willis can speak first-hand to racism in the medical field.

She said one day in 2018 changed her life forever when she was diagnosed with Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (CVS) a rare, an debilitating disease.

She’s had over 80 hospital stays since, but before that her only experience up close with the hospital system was when she had her son nearly two decades ago.

“It was the only hospitalization that I had ever had in my life.”

She said it was one incident that made things clear to her — she was being treated differently.

While in pain, she said she could not get the attention she was seeking from staff, but a patient next to her did.

“They rushed over to immediately give this person all the care and all the attention in order to get them out of pain. And I’m like this is a pain I didn’t induce myself, it’s something I can’t help. That was a real eye-opener.”

Collier said it’s about providers understanding their patients in order to best serve them.

“Providers they don’t see people who look like them, they don’t see people who understand their story or understand what they’re going through. Who understand what it means to take 2 or 3 busses to a doctors appointment,” she said. “Who understand what it means to try and choose healthy foods off of WIC. If you don’t understand what’s going on in a patient’s community, if you don’t understand what’s going on with the patient population and what they’re facing — you are uninformed on how to best treat that patient.”

The University at Buffalo is now working on a multi-step plan to send doctors into the field who are well informed as well as better train the surgeons that exist already.

The department’s response includes:

• Establishment of a new research opportunity this summer for underrepresented medical students interested in surgery.

• Development of a new curriculum for surgical trainees focusing on the effects of racism and implicit bias. This new curricular emphasis seeks to place operative/clinical discussions within the larger matrix of social inequality.

• Establishment of a mentorship program to allow underrepresented future surgeons increased opportunities to work closely with established local surgeons in the operating room.

• A virtual learning mentorship program, currently underway, which is working to spark the imaginations of high school students in Western New York and to recruit them into STEM and medical careers.

• Establishment of meaningful partnerships with the residents and organizations of the neighborhoods where UB’s affiliate hospitals are located, Buffalo’s Fruit Belt and the Delavan-Grider community.

• Development of a pilot elective rotation for medical students focused on health disparities for surgical trainees.

You can find more information here.