Dr. Oz has been covering health injustice since he started his show 12 years ago but has become acutely aware of the fear Black Americans feel for the health care system since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores. Black people are dying from COVID-19 more than twice as frequently per capita as white people and, for the first time ever, major medical associations are acknowledging such racial health disparities.
In fact, the medical outcomes of Black patients treated by Black doctors are superior to Black patients receiving care from white doctors. One way to address that discrepancy is to support the #MoreBlackDoctors campaign to increase participation in medical professions by members of underrepresented communities. After all, while 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black American, only 5 percent of doctors are Black, and less than half of them are women. Let's change this reality.
First, we need role models for the kids who are drawn to health care but don't see anyone who looks like them in the role of doctor. Analogous to the Peace Corps, Dr. Oz started Healthcorps.org almost two decades ago to teach underserved teens about health and wellness using recent college grads as coordinators, many of whom are Black or Hispanic. When teenagers see people like them headed to medical school or working inside hospitals in other capacities, their sense of opportunity broadens.
HealthCorps works to eliminate health inequity in at-risk communities by educating and empowering students to be change makers. It has raised over $100 million, and we celebrate the diverse alumni from the HealthCorps program all over the country who have gone on to become doctors, nurses and health care technicians while serving their communities. The country needs more affordable initiatives like HealthCorps to instill a sense of possibility in young future doctors of color.
Second, we need more mentoring programs for aspiring Black scientists. "The Dr. Oz Show" is launching monthly Zoom seminars that aim to level the playing field by providing insights and information that will help aspiring students of color discover career opportunities and answer their questions about how to negotiate the processes they need to go through to achieve their career goals. The same could be done by healthcare facilities or individual health care providers across the country.
Third, we need to financially support Black Americans interested in medical careers. The racial wealth gap limits the options of aspiring doctors, which is why some medical schools (like Dr. Oz's Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic) are now allowing students to graduate debt-free by increasing scholarship programs. Mike Bloomberg's $100 million gift to four historically Black medical schools also will open doors and minds.
Finally, we need all patients to feel empowered to voice concerns and communicate when they don't feel heard. That debilitating feeling of being ignored and voiceless is a symptom of implicit bias in health care and why many African American patients don't speak up in the doctor's office. Health care improves for everyone when patients reveal the warts and inefficiencies in our system. This is especially true when we look at second opinions, which only 18% of patients request, but which change the diagnosis or treatment in a third of cases. Being a squeaky wheel benefits each individual and the health-care system.
A pivotal moment in Dr. Oz's early surgical career was learning from the first Black Surgeon General, David Satcher, that Martin Luther King Jr. believed the greatest inequality was health care. "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman," King declared. We are all in this together, so let's fix this problem.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.