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Wash U medicine and race forum to examine racism and health disparities in St. Louis

Maria Fabrizio
Recent studies show that health disparities between Black and white St. Louisans have widened over the years. The Medical Humanities program at Washington University in St. Louis is hosting a race and medicine forum on Saturday to discuss health disparities and racism in health care in the St. Louis region.

Doctors and scholars in the St. Louis region say medical professionals must acknowledge the area’s racist history to help eliminate health care inequities.

St. Louis’ history of racism, health disparities and the use of activism and art in medicine are among the topics that researchers, doctors, scholars and community leaders will discuss Saturday at the Medicine, Race, and Ethnicity in St. Louis forum at Washington University in St. Louis.

Intergenerational poverty and the health care system’s practice of focusing on behavior has led to poorer health outcomes for people of color, said Dr. Will Ross, Wash U associate dean of diversity.

“Too much attention has been placed on … lifestyle, these individuals show a certain way of living and that results in disparities,” said Ross, the forum’s keynote speaker. “We really need to refute that specious argument and recognize that there are long-standing systemic practices that created inequity in our community.”

The Wash U forum will include panels about the history and legacy of Homer G. Phillips Hospital and the Pruitt-Igoe housing development, the health and well-being of the region’s Asian and Latin American communities, the obstetrics field and the role of art and activism in medicine. The event begins at 8 a.m. in the Clark-Fox Forum.

“When you think about housing, economic development, education, gun violence, addiction, opportunity of every possible kind, all of those things contribute to health or affliction,” said Rebecca Messbarger, medical humanities director at Wash U.

She said the forum could inspire the community to start looking into changes needed to improve the future of medicine.

“I hope we go out with a better sense of who we are as a community, what ails us, and what kinds of repair work is happening,” Messbarger said.

Some scholars say institutions or university boards need to develop inclusive and diverse medical school curriculums to help students and professors better understand the cultures of the diverse communities they serve.

“It is more than just the doctors, it really has to be, and it's more than a profession,” said Sowande’ Mustakeem, an associate professor of history and African and African American Studies at Wash U. “So what has to happen is, to understand the history and the history of the profession, its evolution, the moments of exploit and then the moments of where change is happening.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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