As the economy saturates news headlines and remains at the top of the agenda for the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, healthcare disparities in America stands at its heels. The rates of death from heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS continue to rise at alarming rates for African Americans, and the racial gaps continue to widen.
Many have joined the fight to prevent, treat, and study the spread of diseases affecting black communities, one of those being Dr. Yolanda Wimberly, a nationally recognized adolescent health specialist and pediatrician who was the first Morehouse School of Medicine physician to receive the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Humanism in Medicine Award last October.
BlackEnterprise.com talked with Dr. Wimberly about the importance of community awareness, health education, and disease prevention.
BlackEnterprise.com: Why is community outreach and health education awareness important for African American and urban communities, and why is patient-centered care of interest to you?
Dr. Yolanda Wimberly: Health education is key for preventive medicine because it allows people to be educated about the signs and symptoms of a disease and ways in which to protect themselves from contraction. In addition, it gives an opportunity for those who may have the disease resources to get tested. Patient-centered care is important because it allows the patient the opportunity to take charge of their own health and be more invested in the process. Educating my patients and their families is key and is a big step toward compliance.
You’ve also worked to establish adolescent clinics at existing health systems. Why is this work important to you, and how can someone go about establishing those types of networks in their own communities?
Adolescence is the time when lifelong habits are formed. Think about your eating habits, study habits, and exercise habits. Most of them are formed in adolescence. I believe if you give them correct info and show them the correct and healthy ways of doing things, they will do it the rest of their lives.
It is quite easy to establish the networks in the communities by visiting and offering services to local agencies and having meetings with them to brainstorm on what they feel is needed for youth.
Several studies have shown that the minority presence is scarce in the areas of science and technology. As an educator, what are some challenges that you are seeing?
There are an increasing amount of programs aimed at increasing minorities in science and technology, but there are many factors that we have to contend with. There are funding issues, interest, and also, in a world with so many choices and opportunities, convincing young people that they can become a physician is sometimes a barrier. Strong math and science skills are key for this profession and unfortunately, traditionally as African Americans, this is not emphasized in our school systems.
How can those challenges be remedied by those who are interested in science education and mentoring?
I would suggest finding a program that mentors African American