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'Tha Hip Hop Doc' headlines 'Slavery to Freedom' event


Less than six percent of U.S. health care providers are Black, even though nearly 12 percent of Americans identify as Black or African American, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

This lack of providers, along with a general mistrust of the health care system, are two of the key reasons why African Americans — and especially Black men — suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the country, according to Louisiana-based Dr. Rani Whitfield.

And while the United States won’t be able to double the number of Black health care providers anytime soon, there is something the industry can do.

“We need to be more culturally sensitive to our patients. You have to interact with your patients, and you have to meet them where they are,” said Whitfield, adding providers could connect with patients through barbershops, churches and even music, the latter of which has been a successful avenue for the physician.

Whitfield, who also performs under the name “Tha Hip Hop Doc,” presented his thoughts on the inequities in health care for American Black men during a recent talk at the Kellogg Center as part of the “24th Annual Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series, Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey.” The talk was co-sponsored by the College of Nursing and College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The inequities in modern health care have roots dating back to slavery, Whitfield noted, citing several examples, including the use of patient Henrietta Lacks’ cells in research without her consent; the Tuskegee experiment, where scientists studied Black men with syphilis but did not treat them, despite having access to medicine that could have helped; and segregation that lasted well into the late 20th century in some parts of the country.

Several groups stepped up to fight racism, Whitfield said, highlighting the National Black Nurses Association, which started up in 1971, but the mistrust has been hard to overcome.

Compounding the issue has been the rise in mental health issues across the country, he said, adding that topic is often considered “taboo” in the African American community.

“Getting help is considered the same as telling your business to a stranger,” Whitfield said.

Even if twice as many African Americans wanted to go medical school, there would still be several major obstacles they would have to overcome, he added, specifically, stereotyping and bias, financial barriers, a lack of mentorship and mental health challenges.

The issues are significant and won’t be solved overnight, Whitfield said, but they must be addressed. For starters, he added, there need to be incentives for new graduates to go into primary care as well as diversity and cultural sensitivity training sessions for providers among all races.

But time is of the essence.

“We have to have to train more people who like us to help us,” he said.

Learn more about other events in this series on the Slavery to Freedom website