Category Archives: Other racial or ethnic groups
The Vast Impact of the IOM Bolsters Efforts to Address Health Disparities and Promote a Culture of Health
Thomas A. LaVeist, PhD, is the William C. and Nancy F. Richardson Professor in Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and founding director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions. He also chairs the National Advisory Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College and is a former member of the National Advisory Committees for the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program and Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM), perhaps more than any other institution, sets the country’s standards and agenda. The field of health disparities offers a great example. In 2002 the IOM published the report Unequal Treatment. The report compiled the scientific evidence documenting substantial racial and ethnic inequities in the quality of health care received by Americans. The report placed health inequalities on the front burner of the nation’s health policy agenda. Understanding the causes and solutions to racial inequities in health has been the primary focus of my career. While the findings were not a surprise to me, I was elated that the IOM had lent its considerable credibility to this long-standing and vexing problem. I am even more elated, now, to have been elected to membership in the IOM.
Cleopatra M. Abdou, PhD, is an assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.
Gerontology, the study of aging, is a diverse field that integrates the biological, social-behavioral, and health sciences, as well as public policy. This means that gerontological research addresses a vast range of questions. One type of question asked by gerontologists, including myself, has to do with intergenerational processes. My own research investigates the intergenerational transmission of culture, social identities, conceptions of stress and success, and, ultimately, health. For example, how do our notions of, and relationships to, family affect our health at critical points in the lifespan? More specifically, how do familial roles and responsibilities, such as marrying, reproducing, and caring for grandchildren, correlate with life satisfaction and longevity?
My four siblings and I are the first American-born generation in our family. Our parents came to the United States from Egypt in 1969, and I am strongly identified as both an American and an Egyptian. Anyone who has complex or competing identities knows that it’s a mixed bag—a blessing and a curse. Recently, as I boarded a plane in Cairo to return to the United States, I found myself sobbing with what I think was a kind of homesickness. As happy as I was to return to my immediate family and orderly life in The States, I mourned leaving the land of my parents and all of our parents before them, especially during this important time in Egypt’s history.
Aasim Padela, MD, MSc, is an emergency medicine physician, health services researcher and bioethicist whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of minority health and bioethics through the lens of the health care experiences of American Muslims. An assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, he is director of Initiative on Islam and Medicine and faculty at the Maclean Center for Clinical Ethics. Padela was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar from 2008 to 2011. His most recent work examines health care accommodations requested by American Muslims that can improve their experiences in the health care system.
Treating patients with understanding and respect is fundamental to health care. As the field has become increasingly focused on metrics and outcomes, we have learned that how comfortable and respected patients feel directly impacts their health outcomes. If you feel uncomfortable with your physician, you are less likely to seek their help, discuss your health concerns with them, or follow their recommendations.
Cultural competency and health care accommodations can help ensure that patients feel as welcome as possible as they seek health resources. While we seek to accommodate patients based on language and culture, we often overlook the ways a shared religion may influence the health of people from different ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups. My research has looked at how we can improve the quality of health care American Muslims receive, particularly through means that account for their shared religiously-informed health care values and experiences. American Muslims are indeed a fast-growing, under-studied and underserved minority.
What we’ve learned provides some actionable steps that may improve health care not only for American Muslims but also for other populations. Our work also points to the need for more research focused on how a shared religion and religious identity impacts community health, and for the health care field to consider larger issues about how we track and deliver health services.