COVID-19: Doctor Discusses Lack of Racial Diversity in Medical Field


[COVID-19\Blacks in Medicine]
Dr. Kele: “For the people who are already a little bit apprehensive about the healthcare system, COVID-19 … it hasn’t helped.”
Photo: Marlea Willis

Dr. Kelechi Uwaezuoke discusses how systemic racism negatively impacts Black and minority communities–including thru underrepresentation of doctors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the stark, often tragic disparity in health outcomes experienced by people of color.

While there are many reasons minorities fare more poorly, including decades of systemic and structural inequities, one of the most obvious factors is staring us all in the face: Black and Brown patients rarely see physicians who look like them.

That’s a problem Dr. Kelechi “Kele” Uwaezuoke (pronounced oo-WEZ-okay) has committed her life to combatting. The Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Community Partnerships at SF BUILD at San Francisco State University, she launched her career to disrupt the inadequate status quo that contributes to the lack of representation in the physician workforce.

On the latest episode of The Combustion Chronicles podcast, host Shawn Nason dives in with Dr. Kele to discuss how lack of representation has contributed to COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. The episode, “A Moral Obligation,” premieres Wednesday, July 22 and is available to stream on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, YouTube and other major podcasting platforms.

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Today, less than a third of active physicians in the U.S. are racially and ethnically diverse. In California, underrepresented minorities (URM) make up 40% of the population but just 9% of physicians. This lack of representation fuels distrust in the healthcare system, implicit and explicit bias, and a perception that physicians don’t understand or have a connection to the lived cultural and linguistic experiences of those from historically unrepresented and marginalized communities.

In “A Moral Obligation,” Shawn and co-host Robin Glasco explore how Dr. Kele works as a mentor, advisor and counselor for URM and disadvantaged medical students to change the meaning and method of inclusion in healthcare. Dr. Kele leans in to discuss why there are fewer Black and Brown students in medical schools, cultural attitudes among people who distrust physicians who do not look like them, and systemic bias from some physicians in how they treat patients of different races, which often results in lower patient compliance with treatment options and healthcare maintenance.

“For the people who are already a little bit apprehensive about the healthcare system, COVID-19 … it hasn’t helped,” says Dr. Kele. “I do think when people were in a place where they felt comfortable with the care that they were receiving, maybe that was because of the provider representation that they had, that there’s a little bit more trust. If you have apprehension about speaking to a provider because you don’t know or don’t feel like they can connect with you, then you may hold back on certain things and that may ultimately result in a difference in the quality of care that you are receiving.”

Dr. Kele received her doctorate in public health from UC Berkeley, where she served as manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Health Careers Opportunity Program prior to obtaining her degree. Her research interests include exploring the educational experiences of underrepresented minority (URM) premed students in the University of California system, the role of pipeline programs in increasing health workforce diversity, and program evaluation as a means of identifying best practices for increasing educational equity and sustainable institutional change.

In The Combustion Chronicles podcast, listeners join the unapologetic Nason as he connects with fellow disruptors and bold leaders from multiple industries to challenge the status quo and talk about consumer-centric ideas with courage, vision, and commitment. Launched on June 24, 2020, past guests on the podcast have included Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global; Ryan Serhant, real estate power broker, leading member of The Serhant Team, author and star of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York; Annette Logan-Parker, CEO and Co-Founder of Cure 4 The Kids Foundation; and Jason Arasheben, luxury jewelry designer and CEO, Jason of Beverly Hills.

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