By Dr. Sharee Livingston

To kneel means to place oneself in a position of humble submission. On May 25, organizations across our nation will come together and kneel for nine minutes and 29 seconds to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.

Doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, administrators, and hospital staff will kneel in solidarity. During the 569 seconds that our lives pause, we will reflect on gun violence, police brutality, and social determinants of health that lead to the untimely deaths of many Black and Brown members of our communities.

As COVID has transformed the globe, it unveiled something we knew existed from the very beginning – America has a health disparity problem.

Social determinants of health, historical and current inequalities, and systemic racism in addition to education level, social class and status, income, and geographic location all contribute to inequitable access to quality health care.

Another major contributing factor is the lack of diversity in the medical profession. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 56.2{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of active physicians identify as white, 17.1{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} identify as Asian, 5.8{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} identify as Hispanic, and 5.0{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} identify as Black or African-American.

Studies show that minority patients are more likely to visit medical professionals who are minorities. And this bears out in data that shows racial and ethnic minorities in the United States have higher rates of chronic disease and premature death. As shown in the Oakland, California study of Black men, cardiovascular mortality can be reduced by 19{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} if care is provided by a racially concordant doctor.

Programs like Patients R Waiting aim to eliminate health disparities by increasing diversity in medicine. Patients R Waiting, which is funded in part by UPMC, has three areas of focus: 1) increasing the pipeline of minority clinicians, 2) making the pipeline less leaky, and 3) supporting minority clinicians in practice. The pipeline programs start as early as middle school to produce the most impact.

In addition to partnering with our community, UPMC is prioritizing health equity through research, education and programming, and training health care providers to ensure all individuals and families have the opportunity to live healthier lifestyles.

By connecting with our patients through the diverse lenses in which they exist – culture, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic realities – we promote better outcomes. In turn, as we take a collective knee and unite for basic human rights, let’s also unite to improve health outcomes for people of color.

Dr. Sharee Livingston, UPMC ob/gyn, serves as the UPMC Lititz Ob/Gyn department chair. She is a board member and organizer for Patients R Waiting and a Co-founder of Diversifying Doulas Initiative, an organization dedicated to eliminating maternal morbidity and mortality by increasing access to doula care for pregnant women of color and increasing the number of black and brown doulas.