Y-Dub Discussions panel unpacks racial trauma in medicine and health care

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Y-Dub Discussions panel unpacks racial trauma in medicine and health care

Categories: Advocacy, Blog, News

At YWCA Dayton, one of the ways we live out our mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women” is by engaging our community in tough, critical conversations through events like Y-Dub Discussions, our virtual dialogue series focused on addressing local justice-related issues. 

We recently kicked off our Y-Dub Discussions for 2021 with a dialogue titled, Reckoning with Racial Trauma in Medicine. A continuation of conversations that began in 2020 with our declaration of racism as a public health crisis, the Feb. 25 event brought together six Dayton-area leaders to unpack the history of racial inequities in health care and discuss practical steps people can take as they navigate complex systems and create change that leads to more effective anti-racist public health responses.  

The panel included the following local leaders:
• Taylor Curtis, Professor, African American Psychology, Sinclair College
• Manicka Thomas, Associate Clinical Director, YWCA Dayton
• Phil Walker, Medical Student, Boonshoft School of Medicine 
• Dr. Mamle Anim, Chief Medical Officer, Five Rivers Health Centers 
• Fabrice Juin, Project Manager, Local Office of Minority Health, Public Health, Dayton & Montgomery County
• Gina McFarlane-El, CEO, Five Rivers Health Centers 

The history of medicine and health care in the U.S. is marked by racial injustice and myriad forms of violence, which includes unequal access to health care, the segregation of medical facilities, and the exclusion of African Americans from medical education, among other examples. Donna Long, moderator of the discussion and YW’s director of advocacy and outreach, began the conversation with a commitment to both acknowledging the past and paving a way forward for current and future generations.   

With expertise in areas ranging from public health to psychology and social work, the discussion was filled with countless takeaways about how Black and Brown communities can show up for themselves and face the realities of racial trauma in medicine, a few of which we’ve highlighted in this post. You can view the complete conversation below, or find it archived on YWCA Dayton’s Facebook Page.

Taylor Curtis: Trauma comes from longstanding experiences of people of color in medicine 
From the transatlantic slave trade to more modern events like the Tuskegee Experiment and beliefs among current medical students, Taylor Curtis spoke of experiences throughout history that “broke” both mind and body, contributing to physical and mental trauma for people of color.  

“When we start to watch this experience of a power structure that is behind a support system that’s supposed to be there for the people, and it not being catered to the people, you see not only distrust of the medical system, but then you see people not getting the care that they need, not getting the education that they need about their health care, and then also not getting the support that they need within the community,” said Curtis. 

Manicka Thomas: Trauma disconnects the body and mind, activates our nervous system and impacts how we view the world
YW’s Manicka Thomas described the impact trauma can have on a person’s physical and mental state. Thomas said that our brains are designed to keep us safe, always scanning our environment for potential threats (physical, emotional, psychological, etc.), which then triggers responses, like hypervigilance, that may or may not be warranted. The goal, according to Thomas, is to recreate the brain-body connection that has been disconnected through any traumatic experience. 

“(Trauma) creates the ability for us to put off any signs or symptoms that we notice that are happening in our bodies. We are not responsive to the things we should be taking care of,” said Thomas. 

Phil Walker: Those who haven’t experienced trauma may not recognize it in others 
Phil Walker shared his belief that physicians have little incentive to address personal biases through opportunities like implicit bias training. He said that it sometimes feels like his peers view such training as a “waste of time,” or a checkbox on the path to doing the “real work.” 

“What I saw immediately was that some of my counterparts struggled with being able to pick up on what was going on with Black and Brown patients,” said Walker. To that point, Walker said that when physicians fail to recognize trauma, there’s a greater chance of asking the wrong questions, or not enough questions, to their patients. 

Dr. Mamle AnimBad behaviors are passed from learner to learner
Dr. Anim expanded on Phil’s belief, stating that medical students often learn from residents, who have recently completed medical school and have few years of experience. Because of this, bad behaviors are passed from learner to learner.  

“(Medical students) learn in an environment that reinforces stereotypes, and then they go out and carry stereotypes with them,” said Anim. “We aren’t teaching our students how to deal with people who don’t look like them.” 

According to Dr. Anim, people of color have learned that in order to get what they need, “you’ve got to play nice,” which she said shouldn’t be the case. “People shouldn’t have to think about playing nice when they’re sick.”  

Fabrice Juin: Surroundings and circumstances don’t always allow for self-betterment and self-improvement 
“There are traumatized communities who have been pushed to the wayside and left to fend for themselves, crisis after crisis, disaster after disaster, injustice after injustice,” said Fabrice Juin. “Now, in relation to the current COVID-19 crisis that we’re facing, these same communities are being asked to trust the very institutions that may have previously let them down.”  

Regarding local COVID-19 vaccination efforts, Juin stressed the importance of providing vaccination opportunities specifically for people of color and marginalized communities, and making sure that messaging is being distributed to educate and empower people to make the decisions that are right for them. He encouraged those who’ve figured out the system to connect and share their knowledge with those who aren’t as equipped.  

Gina McFarlane-El: The expert on your body is you
“Every appointment is an opportunity for you to state what’s wrong with you from your perspective.” 

Gina McFarlane-El shared practical advice on how to care for yourself and discussed how Five Rivers Health Centers cares for the whole patient and each individual’s unique needs, along with an important reminder to always “bring a person and bring a notebook” to any medical appointment. 

Five Rivers Health Centers offers comprehensive services to low-income patients in Dayton, which includes access to a wide range of experts like on-site pharmacists, dietitians, psychologists, legal professionals, as well as nutrition education through cooking demonstrations and programs that provide patients with fresh, organic produce for their families.  

Want to be the first to know about the next Y-Dub Discussions event? Sign up for our monthly Y-Dub Digest email newsletter to receive the latest from YWCA Dayton. And, if you enjoyed the conversation and are interested in learning more about this and other social justice issues, be sure to register for our next 21-Day Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge