The Blackest Questions

Fighting systemic racism in medicine with Dr. Uché Blackstock

Episode 57

Racism is killing Black people, and Emergency Room Physician Dr. Uché Blackstock is working tirelessly to course correct. Her New York Times best-selling book “Legacy” is meant to educate the masses about the systemic inequity affecting patients and those wishing to be healthcare providers. She joins The Blackest Questions as a history maker to discuss some of the forgotten Black heroes in medicine and encourage people to take control of their health and fight for better representation. The rising mortality rate for Black babies and their mothers is a standout in the conversation as Dr. Greer and Dr. Uché examine the issue’s direct link to racism. 

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – Dr. Uché Blackstock speaks onstage during the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 1, 2022. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence)


[00:00:00] theGrio: You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

[00:00:05] Dr. Christina Greer: Hi, and welcome to The Blackest Questions. A trivia game show meant to teach us more about Black history. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and currently a Moynihan Public Scholars fellow at the City College in New York.

[00:00:17] In this podcast, we ask our guest five of the Blackest questions. so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also gonna learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s how it works. We’ve got five rounds of questions about us. Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it.

[00:00:35] And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to answer. If they answer correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black fist and hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. And after the five trivia questions, there will be a Black bonus round just for fun.

[00:00:54] And I like to call it Black Lightning.

[00:00:59] Our guest for this episode is emergency room physician and health equity advocate, Dr. Uché Blackstock. Dr. Blackstock is a history maker herself. She, her twin sister, and mother graduated from Harvard Medical School, making them the first, but not the only, Black female legacy graduates. Dr. Blackstock is the CEO of the organization Advancing Health Equity, which is dedicated to helping health care providers close the gap in racial health inequities.

[00:01:24] Dr. Blackstock became a trusted voice during the pandemic as a go to expert dismantling COVID-19 disinformation, and she is also the author of the new book, Legacy, A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine, which we’ll hear a lot more about throughout this episode. Hello, Dr. Blackstock, as I like to call you, Bobjack.

[00:01:43] Thank you for joining The Blackest Questions.

[00:01:45] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Hi, Dr. Greer. It’s so great to be on with you. I’m, I’m looking forward to our conversation.

[00:01:51] Dr. Christina Greer: I cannot wait. Well, first of all, now we’re Dr. Blackstock and Dr. Greer, but I remember when it was just Uday and Uché and I was just Reddy’s little sister Chrissy. I love it.

[00:01:59] I love it. You know, just a little 25 years difference.

[00:02:04] Are you ready to play the Blackest Questions? I am ready. Okay. I

[00:02:07] know. Don’t be nervous. This is fun. As I tell our listeners every month, Black History is American History and we’re here to learn a little bit more. about where we came from and where we’re going.

[00:02:17] So, question number one. In 1910, a medical report was published that completely restricted medical education and had a negative and lasting impact on Black doctors and patients. What was the name of this report?

[00:02:31] Dr. Uché Blackstock: That report was called the Flexner Report.

[00:02:34] Dr. Christina Greer: Correct! So, the Flexner Report was written by American educator Abraham Flexner.

[00:02:39] The report was meant to reform the 155 medical schools operating in the United States and Canada. Flexner recommended the number of medical schools be vastly reduced from 155 to just 31. He also suggested an increase in prerequisites and education to enter medical school and that medical schools be attached to a university instead of being privately owned.

[00:03:00] The changes that followed had a massive impact on Black America. The number of historically Black medical schools went from five to two, and they struggled to stay open because they were forced to meet the same institutional requirements of white medical schools. Flexner believed that Black doctors should only treat Black patients and that they pose a health threat to middle and upper class White Americans.

[00:03:19] The report ultimately encouraged systemic racism throughout the medical field that is still felt more than 100 years later. So, Uché, can you tell us how you still see the Flexner Report impacting us, especially Black people, today?

[00:03:32] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah. Yeah, you know, it was interesting. Um, in 2020, a report came out that estimated the number of Black physicians that would have been trained at those historically Black medical schools that were closed by the Flexner Report, and they estimated that between 25, 000 and 35, 000 Black physicians would have been educated and trained.

[00:03:55] And if you could imagine, like, the impact of those physicians on our communities, they would have cared for generations of patients. They would have mentored, you know, medical students and junior physicians. They would have been able to probably be more likely to do research in Black health and, and health inequity.

[00:04:14] So what that report did, it was devastating for our communities. And unfortunately, it’s a, it’s a little known report that has had a tremendous impact on, on, on diversity. In our, in our, in our health profession, um, and it has had devastating consequences.

[00:04:33] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. I mean, I just think about the sheer impact over a hundred years and what that could mean, uh, for healthcare for Black people across the country.

[00:04:42] So, I want to shift ever so slightly and talk about your book, Legacy, A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine. And what was your biggest motivation in getting this book written knowing about the Flexner Report and all the ways that Black people have been excluded over the past few centuries in this country?

[00:05:00] Dr. Uché Blackstock: So my biggest motivation is really to help the reader. And the reader is a broad audience. It’s not just people in medicine and healthcare. It’s anyone who is concern committed about equity and justice in this country, but I wanted to be able to help them connect the dots about why health outcomes in our communities and Black communities is so poor, and it’s not because there is anything inherently or biologically wrong with us, but there is something very, very wrong with, uh, with the systems in this country, with the history and the current social institutions, not just healthcare, uh, criminal legal system housing education that actually ends up making our community sick.

[00:05:44] And so I wanted to be able to just sort of digest all of that in a way that is easily accessible and understood to a broad audience to understand and help connect the dots to how we got here today, where I, you know, Dr. Uché Blackstock, Harvard educated college and medical school. I’m still five times more likely to die of pregnancy related complications than my white peers, right? And I have the best insurance, you know, I have a great income. I, I, I lead a healthy life, but I still am more likely to die of pregnancy related complications.

[00:06:22] Dr. Christina Greer: And I feel like that life has been shown, uh, over the past few years, obviously there’s several Black celebrities that have talked about that.

[00:06:29] So the gap with, uh, Black maternal health. What are some other health inequities that might surprise our listeners?

[00:06:36] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah, so another one I think is really interesting is an upsetting is the Black infant mortality rate. So something I share is that although the overall infant mortality rate for both Black and white babies has improved significantly since the 1800s, the disparity like today, Black babies are more than twice as likely to die in their first year of life than white babies, and that’s a wider disparity today than 15 years before the end of slavery. And obviously, during slavery, there was a financial interest and incentive to keeping Black babies alive, right?

[00:07:12] They had financial value to them. So now here we are, you know, current day, right? And no one’s caring about Black babies. So, we are seeing that, I mean, that is alarming to say that Black babies today, when we have all these advances in innovation, technology, research, are more likely to die than white babies now than 15 years before the end of slavery, is, is heinous and egregious.

[00:07:38] Yeah.

[00:07:39] Dr. Christina Greer: I mean, I am utterly shocked. I mean, I think, you know, a lot of people know about environmental racism, you know, as we’ve said, we know about sort of Black women in the medical system, but that is a statistic that I think will stay with our listeners. For quite some time, um, we’re going to move on to question.

[00:07:54] Number two. I just want to reiterate a thousand times. Thank you so much for writing this book. You know, in academia, sometimes when people say, oh, your book is so accessible, they mean it as a dig and it’s just, it’s, it says a lot about academia, right? Um, but I love the fact that a book is written so that it can be accessible.

[00:08:12] You know, when I write, I try and think of can my non PhD friends, parents, grandparents. Yeah. Understand what I’m writing, you know, and not hiding behind, um, you know, order probit and order logit, you know, uh, statistical compilations and just making it so that the information that needs to get to our community actually gets there.

[00:08:34] So I just want to thank you again for writing this book in a way that invites the reader in to understand the story that you’re trying to tell.

[00:08:43] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah, no, thank you so much. Thank you for that. I really appreciate it.

[00:08:46] Dr. Christina Greer: Well, are you ready for question number two? You’re one for one. I am. Question number two.

[00:08:52] After delivering a powerful speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, This retired neurosurgeon got into politics, seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016. Had he won, he would have been the first medical doctor to serve as President of the United States. Who am I describing?

[00:09:10] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Dr. Ben Carson.

[00:09:12] Dr. Christina Greer: Yes, Dr. Ben Carson was a pioneer in the field of neurosurgery and was the first to perform several medical procedures, including the separation of conjoined twins joined at the back of a head. When he retired from medicine in 2013, he had written more than 100 surgical publications and was a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

[00:09:29] In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Dr. Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor. And though he ended his presidential run after Super Tuesday back in 2016, Carson went on to support Donald Trump, who later appointed him Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

[00:09:46] Uh, some of you may remember that. So, there are several studies, Uché, that show that Black patients give more honest and accurate summaries of their health issues when they’re speaking to Black physicians. They’re also more likely to follow medical advice and treatment plans when being treated by a Black doctor.

[00:10:01] Do you think that Black people should actively seek out Black doctors? Or do you think we need to do more to educate non Black doctors about how to treat Black patients?

[00:10:12] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Such a great question, and I feel both. I feel there needs to obviously be better representation of Black physicians. Like, we only, we’re not even 6%, right, of all physicians, but we’re 13, over 13 percent of the U. S. population. But I also want to say that, you know, we as Black physicians are educated and trained in these predominantly white institutions. And so, it doesn’t matter often how altruistic we are, how much a sense of Black identity we, we have, we can also absorb some of the bias and discrimination and, and have internalized racism that actually we, you know, may come out when we’re taking care of our patients.

[00:10:53] So I always tell like Black physicians, we need to check ourselves. Because sometimes we may fall into those same biases that our, that our white physicians fall into. So that’s one thing, but I definitely do think that we need to increase the diversity of our, our physician workforce. And the other thing is, yes, we should.

[00:11:11] Absolutely expect non Black physicians to be able to competently and adequately care for Black patients. Like we shouldn’t just leave that up to Black physicians, right? Like that should be the expectation when you’re educated and when you’re trained that you’re coming out of medical school and residency able to take care of anyone and get and provide equitable care and understand, what your patient’s life is like, you know, in the, whatever socio political context in which they live, no one’s expecting you to solve all their problems, but at least to be aware of them and make sure to connect them with the services they need to be healthier.

[00:11:47] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. You know, I always remind my students, I’m like, these are institutions and institutions are called such for a reason, you know, and so we adopt.

[00:11:54] Some of the thought processes and patterns and legacies of these institutions, and they’re not always positive, especially when dealing with such an anti Black society. And so what do you think needs to happen to get more Black people practicing medicine? Because we know that there’s so many courses that are meant to weed out students.

[00:12:15] Um, but in many ways, they oftentimes weed out a lot of Black students because of anti Black racism and institutional biases. So how can we get more Black people to practice medicine and stay in medicine once they’re in it?

[00:12:28] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Right, so that’s the other issue. So I think that, right, I think also, you know, the pipeline is incredibly important.

[00:12:37] I think that we need to, we need academic medical centers, we need, you know, federal agencies like government to really be involved and make this a priority. Like, there needs to be private public collaborations, thinking about a pipeline of increasing Black physicians. And this starts when, in nursery school, preschool, this starts really, really early, exposing children to these opportunities, mentoring opportunities, sponsorship.

[00:13:02] And I also see because of the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, you know, we have this massive racial wealth divide in our country. racial gap in this country, and where we don’t have access to resources and opportunities as, as white folks do in this, you know, in this country. And so I think there needs to be an investment starting from an early age in terms of our, the schooling, education, and then also providing financial assistance.

[00:13:27] And, you know, in, in the form of, of grants, not even loans, in the forms, in the form of grants. Um, I think especially for descendants of enslaved Black people in this country, like, that should just be, um, a given. But I think we also need to address, you know, address the racial wealth gap, address mentoring, address exposure, address sponsor, you know, sponsoring opportunities.

[00:13:47] And then also look at these healthcare institutions. Right? That we enter in medical school, in training, and make sure that these environments are inclusive of us. Because what happens, like with my experience, is that, you know, you end up in these environments, and you realize that you cannot be authentic, you can’t speak truth to power, because they’re so anti Black, because they’re toxic, and racist, and sexist.

[00:14:11] And so, we need to make sure that once Black physicians get to these environments, that they can. Uh, not just survive, but thrive in their roles and caring for their patients.

[00:14:24] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. And, you know, you, you mentioned something that I want to think about, you know, when you talk about kind of this, this pipeline and in some ways, it’s a leaky pipeline, but, you know, starting at such a young age, is there something that could be done specifically on a political level to make this pipeline and mentorship happen?

[00:14:43] Dr. Uché Blackstock: That’s such a great question. Yes. And so there really are opportunities one for investment in the health care workforce. So this is something that I put in my call to action to policymakers and thinking about what are structured programs, mentoring programs that we can put in communities. And in association with community based organizations that are already embedded in the communities that are already doing the work, how can we provide them with resources?

[00:15:09] Because they are already are trusted messengers, trusted individuals in the community that can work with the young people. So it’s really, I think about, you know, funding organizations that need, that we know need the funding their, their work often goes unrecognized. We have them all. We have them here in Brooklyn.

[00:15:25] We have them all over the country, but how can we work with them? To really, um, to, to amplify their work, to elevate their work in a way that, you know, we are working with young people all along the pipeline.

[00:15:38] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. And I love this idea though, you know, of having Black doctors. Both practicing, but also doing what you’re doing, which is, you know, showing that Black doctors, um, can use their information and resources to educate a wider public, because obviously they’re going to be a lot of young people, uh, who read your book or who have given your book the way, you know, we always get gifted hands, Ben Carson’s old book, and now it’s like a dirty candle, but you know, like, you know, giving this book to young people so they can see themselves, not just as medical professionals, but also medical and policy advocates, which is just really important.

[00:16:14] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Absolutely, and that’s something I think physicians, we don’t focus enough on like we focus on the clinical work and we forget that we, we are advocates for our patients like we need to know what’s happening on a policy level in our patients communities to make them healthier like that is I think part of the obligation of being a physician.

[00:16:32] Dr. Christina Greer: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And I mean, especially you know I think about the work that you and my sister and so many other Black female doctors in particular did during COVID 19 to really dispel a lot of the myths and also educate Black people specifically about vaccinations and what that means for their communities and their environments and their families.

[00:16:52] I really just think that this kind of Sister Insider, Sister Outsider, as Audre Lorde talks about, is really important with the work that you all do.

[00:17:02] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yes, absolutely. I have people who still stop me on the street who send me DMs saying they only got vaccinated because they heard me on MSNBC or they saw some of my tweets, um, and they, and they trusted me and I don’t take that.

[00:17:16] I don’t take that lightly at all. I don’t take that lightly at all. You know, so yes, I think it’s, you know, we, like you were saying, like, we live in, you know, both, we have these lived experiences as Black people in this country, but we also have this professional experience of being Black physicians, so we know what it is to be in both these environments, and we also know how it is to be able to communicate to our communities in a way that is accessible, in a way that can give them the information they need so they can make an informed decision.

[00:17:46] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. And an informed decision and then take that information that you all laid out for them and take it back to their own families and communities, which I think is just that rippling effect that your book really lays out for us. So, we’re gonna take a quick break. I wanna remind our listeners to like us on YouTube and subscribe to The Blackest Questions wherever you get your podcasts so you never miss an episode.

[00:18:06] theGio: Yo, come look at what Michael Harriot just posted.

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[00:18:37] Dr. Christina Greer: We’re back. I’m with my second favorite Black female doctor. Obviously, my favorite’s my sister. But you were in the 2019 Forbes magazine. You were named one of the 10 diversity and inclusion trailblazers you need to get familiar with. So I’m here with Dr. Uché Blackstock talking about her new book, Legacy.

[00:18:56] Um, okay. Are you ready for question number three, Dr. Blackstock?

[00:19:00] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yes, I am ready.

[00:19:02] Dr. Christina Greer: Okay, you’re two for two. You’re killing it! Alright. This historic neighborhood, founded by freed and slaved peoples, is more than 180 years old. And was one of America’s first thriving Black communities. It’s located in Brooklyn, New York.

[00:19:16] And today, it’s known as Crown Heights. Do you know the area’s original name?

[00:19:20] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Not Weeksville?

[00:19:25] Dr. Christina Greer: It is Weeksville. Congratulations. Okay. So, it was Uché like, I’m not gonna say it, I’m not gonna say it. So, the area was named after John Weeks, a Black man from Virginia who bought the plot of land 11 years after slavery was abolished. By the 1850s, more than 500 residents lived in Weeksville, and many of the Black men in the area owned homes in order to pay taxes on them.

[00:19:48] Paying taxes was the only way minorities could qualify to vote. Weeksville had its own churches, a school, and a Black newspaper that taught formerly enslaved people to read. By the 1930s, gentrification took hold, and the area was absorbed into a very rapidly changing Brooklyn. So, Dr. Blackstock, you grew up in or about near Weeksville?

[00:20:08] Tell us about that.

[00:20:10] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah, I grew up in Crown Heights. My parents purchased our home two weeks before Oney, my twin sister, and I were born in the 19, in 1977. Um, actually, I just found out while researching for this book that my area was a formerly redlined area. So when my parents tried to purchase our home in 1977, even though they both were professionals, they could not qualify for a mortgage.

[00:20:36] The only way that they were, they could qualify is because of the Bed Stuy Restoration Corporation, which, which, uh, JFK was involved in creating. And the whole goal of that organization was to provide, uh, home buying opportunities to Black folks in the area. And my father was a veteran. And so there was a veteran’s mortgage available through them.

[00:20:57] So that’s the only way my parents were able to purchase their home in 1977. So it’s just. Growing up there, I always wanted, I loved my neighborhood, I loved my neighbors, we all looked out for each other, but I always wondered why my parents didn’t feel comfortable sending us to schools in our neighborhood, why there wasn’t a grocery store in our neighborhood, why there weren’t a lot of businesses in our neighborhood.

[00:21:19] And so, like, again, these were like the ways I was connecting the dots as I was, you know, practicing as I got older and seeing like the legacy, the legacy of these discriminatory housing policies, even how they impacted. My family, I also found out that my parents could not qualify for mortgage insurance because it was a formerly redline neighborhood.

[00:21:39] So they lived in our home with only fire insurance for the first, I believe, like five or seven years. Wow. Yeah, I know. Yeah, so there, yeah, so it’s just like, you know, I think. Again, this book, just really wanting to connect the dots, and also the fact that formerly redlined neighborhoods, we know this, have the worst health outcomes.

[00:22:00] So again, like, you know, over a hundred years later, almost a hundred years later, we are seeing the impact of these discriminatory housing policies.

[00:22:10] Dr. Christina Greer: Well, and this is, you know, as a political scientist, I always try and explain to my students and obviously, you know, when I do public facing work about how all this is interconnected.

[00:22:18] So people wouldn’t necessarily think that what I do is explicitly connected to what you do. But what your book lays out is that. If we’re talking about redlining, which I talk about oftentimes in my urban politics courses, if we’re talking about redlining and we’re talking about the generational wealth gap for African Americans, we also have to zoom out and recognize that those areas not only didn’t have grocery stores, as you mentioned, many of them didn’t have hospitals.

[00:22:42] And so as we continue to see the closure of hospitals in Black neighborhoods across the country, especially in the South, we’re just repeating some patterns that we would think policy wise we would have learned our lessons from, but it’s, it seems almost deliberate and explicit if, you know, if I’m being a cynic.

[00:23:00] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Absolutely. And then this whole idea of the, The hospitals that are, that still exist in our neighborhoods, they, you know, they’re termed minority serving hospitals. And they’ve done studies that, that the quality of care that you get in these hospitals is much, much lower quality. They don’t have specialty care.

[00:23:16] So they don’t, they don’t have people who are, you know, you know, they won’t have like an intensive care unit for someone, you know, who’s very sick. They don’t have the same resources or supplies. Like they don’t, they don’t have a ventilator. So again, it’s like, These, these hospitals that are even in our neighborhoods still are not providing us with the care that we need and deserve.

[00:23:38] And again, all, all linked, all linked to these, to these policies.

[00:23:42] Dr. Christina Greer: You know, in this podcast, I try and kind of lean us into, you know, the positive directions, right? And sometimes it just, the problem seems so large, because what do we do with that? Because we know that if An underserved hospital that primarily serves not just Black people, but poor people, we know that not all, but you know, there will be some doctors and nurses who just don’t really feel like these people deserve the quality of care as we would see on, say, certain, certain zip codes.

[00:24:09] Where you know that if something happens to a patient, they’ll be held to pay. So like you, you do your best, you show up as your best. And we know that that’s not always the case, especially when people are dealing with poor people, people of color, and more specifically Black people.

[00:24:23] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there, there needs to be more accountability by these hospitals.

[00:24:29] Like it needs to be tied into accreditation. It needs to be tied in. There needs to be some, unfortunately, some sort of other incentive other than just being, you know, Altruistic, um, you know, for these hospitals and there needs to be, you know, processes and procedures in place that are really keeping these hospitals in check so that we don’t see that we so that, you know, interventions happen before we see people dying as a result of not being listened to, or, you know, being ignored or not receiving the proper care.

[00:25:01] So, and the thing is, like, there are solutions, like, there are solutions, there are, I write in the book about, uh, a, a, a. Black Birthing Center, Black Owned Birthing Center in Minneapolis, called the Roots Birthing Center. They focus on Black birthing people, just giving them the respect, dignity that they deserve, and they’ve seen positive outcomes by that.

[00:25:23] They’ve seen positive outcomes. So we really need healthcare institutions to be rooted in, um, addressing anti Blackness with affirming, affirming Blackness, affirming our lived experiences in this country. And providing dignified care. It seems so simple, but I feel like.

[00:25:42] Dr. Christina Greer: It seems so simple yet so novel at the same time.

[00:25:46] So Uché, speaking of solutions, before we get to question number four, tell us a little bit more about your organization, Advancing Health Equity.

[00:25:54] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Sure. I’m very excited to tell you about Advancing Health Equity because it was an organization that I founded almost five years ago, just out of my frustration in terms of what I was seeing working within healthcare institutions.

[00:26:06] So I decided to take a leap of faith and founded, I founded Advancing Health Equity, mostly focusing on trainings of health care providers around around bias and racism and health care. And then it obviously became very clear that we don’t resolve these issues just by trainings. So we started actually going into health care organizations.

[00:26:27] Doing racial equity and health equity assessments where we, we interview leadership, we do focus groups with staff, we talk to patients, and then we help them strategize around what does an equitable plan look like three to five year plan in terms of creating a more diverse, inclusive workplace. And, and then more external facing, how do we provide better care to our patients?

[00:26:49] We do a lot of leadership coaching for healthcare leaders around how do you Become an inclusive leader. How are you centering Black folks and Black patients in the work that you do? And so we’ve been doing that for five years. Um, our team is expanding And expanding we have people backgrounds in public health nursing organizational development so, you know, I feel like that’s my part in terms of helping to to at least address some of this problem that feels so so big sometimes but you know i’m doing it institution by institution, organization by organization.

[00:27:26] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. I love it. And I, um, I think. The long standing legacy of this work for so many families and communities is just, it’s going to have that positive rippling effect that, that we need to see. Okay, so I’m gonna move on to question number four. Are you ready?

[00:27:43] Dr. Uché Blackstock: I am ready.

[00:27:45] Dr. Christina Greer: Excellent. Okay. Last year, the HBO film, Something the Lord Made, went viral on TikTok and found new fame 20 years after its release, introducing a whole new generation to the story of surgical assistant Vivian Thomas.

[00:27:58] The film tells the story of Thomas, a Black man in Baltimore, my favorite city, who helped develop a procedure used to treat what medical issue?

[00:28:09] Dr. Uché Blackstock: I don’t know this one.

[00:28:11] Dr. Christina Greer: Okay, so the answer is Blue Baby Syndrome, also known as, now correct me if I’m wrong, I’m going to try and say it, Infant Methylmoglobinemia?

[00:28:20] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Methemoglobinemia.

[00:28:22] Dr. Christina Greer: There we go. That’s right. Just rolls off the tongue. So, Blue Baby Syndrome causes blueness of the skin in babies as a result of low oxygen levels in the blood.

[00:28:29] And before 1944, when a groundbreaking surgical procedure was first attempted, countless children died of the condition. The life saving surgery took place at Johns Hopkins University and was performed by surgeon Alfred Blalock and his surgical technician Vivian Thomas. It was Thomas who developed the procedure, but because of segregation and racism, he never got the credit he deserved.

[00:28:49] For Thomas grew up in poverty and never had any formal medical school or college training. Yet he rose above his circumstances and became a cardiac surgery pioneer. In the movie I mentioned, Something the Lord Made, rapper and singer Mos Def played the role of Thomas.

[00:29:04] Something the Lord Made: Who cares what they call you? You and I both know how valuable the work is that you do.

[00:29:09] If my work is so important, then why am I class three? Two grades below what

[00:29:16] I do in classification.

[00:29:19] Dr. Christina Greer: How often do you think this has happened, Uché, where Black people contribute to, um, groundbreaking medical progress and they’ve been left out of medical history?

[00:29:31] Dr. Uché Blackstock: You know, I think it’s happened far too often, and there probably are so many names that we don’t even know.

[00:29:38] I mean, I think even, you know, he played an active role, right, in this discovery. But then I think about You know, um, the father of gynecology, you know, modern gynecology, Jane Marion Sims, who, who made these discoveries that, you know, have revolutionized, you know, gynecology, the, you know, the vaginal speculum and a way to fix, um, fistulas that are created by childbirth.

[00:30:06] But he did so by experimenting on enslaved Black women who were never, you know, weren’t able to get consent, one, um, and they were operated on in this. very painful way without local anesthesia. And they were never recognized for their, I mean, these contributions. So, so it’s like this flip side. It’s like, you know, you know, we, we did so with, with consent.

[00:30:28] We did so without consent. We made these contributions to medicine that I think largely goes, um, unfortunately unrecognized and I always think about, excuse me, I always think about the fact that so many of us were not allowed into medical schools, right? Like, those of us who had the talents, the skills, the potential, right?

[00:30:48] There were so many, probably so, so many. And, but we made, um, you know, discoveries and that and developments and other very useful ways that have often gone unrecognized by the discipline.

[00:31:00] Dr. Christina Greer: Yeah, I mean, you know, as a political scientist, I always think about the lost potential of this nation, and how racism, especially anti Black racism, has excluded so many people, and how many more advancements we could have had as a nation if we didn’t exclude Black people, especially Black women, you know, who were ready and definitely had the intellectual aptitude and the drive and the desire to do it.

[00:31:26] It’s just because of the circumstance. They weren’t allowed. Um, what I love about the book though, Legacy, A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine, but what can our listeners do, sort of move the ball forward in ways, you know, this, your book gives us many calls to action, but what can they do to help us achieve health equity?

[00:31:45] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Right. And so, you know, in that, in that chapter, which is the call to action towards the end, you know, I, I address different groups, right? I, I, I address. I address Black folks. I address Black women. Um, I want us to understand that and affirm like these experiences that we have in healthcare settings that where we’re mistreated and to tell you that that you did not deserve that.

[00:32:09] I see you. That should not happen. And we should be. working towards policies that create healthier communities. So I think for a lot of us, like what happened, what’s happening in our community is getting involved in advocacy because we know health is not just about health care delivery. It’s about, you know, food insecurity.

[00:32:30] It’s about housing insecurity. Um, it’s about what’s happening politically in your In your community, so you don’t have to it’s not even about, you know, you’re like, oh, should I vote in general election? It’s like, no, you should you should know what’s happening in terms of organizing and, you know, local elections in your own community, because that we what we know is that health really is determined by what by factors at a neighborhood level at a community level.

[00:32:54] So I really want to encourage people to get hyper local and locally involved in what’s happening in their communities, because so much we call the social determinants of health education. employment, housing, all of those impact health. And we know that racism is a key driving factor of those social determinants.

[00:33:14] And so I want people to realize that, you know, you can make a difference for, for white folks who are listening. You know, we always say the work starts at home, right? Recognizing, talking to your family, talking to your friends, recognizing that these racial health inequities that we’re seeing today are really egregious and unacceptable and that they have to think about what are these, um, I call it equity choices.

[00:33:37] These, um, choice, choice points, choice points that you can make in your personal, professional lives, in your advocacy roles, where you make a decision that actually Improves outcomes for, for Black folks, right? Um, so, so, so these are things I just want, I want people to feel electrified and galvanized after reading Legacy because I think a lot of times people read these, these, these kind of books and they’re like, Oh no, what, so what do I do now?

[00:34:02] And so I laid out, this is what you need to do.

[00:34:05] Dr. Christina Greer: Right. And the problems are so big. However, we can take off sort of morsel sized bites and start locally and, you know, as I always tell people, you know, your city council member has a lot of power over your life, whether, you know, a community center gets opened or closed or funded or not.

[00:34:19] Um, and I, I love this call to action. Okay. Last proper question before we get to Black Lightning, which is my favorite round. Um, are you ready for question number five?

[00:34:29] Dr. Uché Blackstock: I’m ready.

[00:34:30] Dr. Christina Greer: Okay, here we go. Let’s finish strong. Who was the first Black woman to become a licensed physician in the state of New York in 1869?

[00:34:37] And here’s a hint for our listeners. She was a member of the King’s County Medical Society, which is tied to the hospital where Dr. Blackstock completed her medical residency, and where you grew up in the Weeksville neighborhood.

[00:34:50] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Dr. Susan McKinney Stewart.

[00:34:53] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. So Dr. Stewart was the third Black woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, but she practiced Homeopathy medicine, which is the belief that the body can heal itself.

[00:35:03] Because of this, she struggled to build a clientele at first, but eventually became a trusted doctor in Brooklyn, focusing on prenatal care and childhood diseases. She became a leading voice for Black physicians when she died. Her funeral was attended by hundreds of people, including author W. E. B. Du Bois, who delivered her eulogy.

[00:35:20] Did you know that?

[00:35:21] Dr. Uché Blackstock: I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.

[00:35:23] Dr. Christina Greer: Yeah. Um, so according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, as you mentioned earlier, Uché, only about 5. 7 percent of physicians in the United States are Black. That number is even smaller when you break it down by gender. So what kind of impact do you think not having enough Black doctors has on Black Americans?

[00:35:45] I mean, you’ve talked about sort of health outcomes and sort of education. But yeah, if we’re leaving our listeners with ways that they can support this, this leaky pipeline that we talked

[00:35:54] about.

[00:35:55] Dr. Uché Blackstock: You know, the one thing I always think about is this research that shows how Black patients often with Black physicians, they feel more seen, heard and appreciated.

[00:36:04] And I think that. Is what every patient should experience when they have an interaction with a health professional, right? That’s what they deserve, like, dignified, culturally responsive, respectful care. Um, and I, I think, you know, a lot of it also starts with, um. How we are educating and training our positions of all racial demographics.

[00:36:25] Uh, you know, we really need to think about how do we address anti racism in education and training? How do we advocate, you know, or interact with our policymakers to think about You know, the importance of diversity in health care. What can we do at, like I said, at a local, state and federal level to encourage that?

[00:36:43] How can we work with private institutions to hold them accountable that their workforce and public institutions that their workforce should represent the communities that they serve? So there are so many different ways that, um, that. Um, and that your audience can, can make a difference in terms of thinking about how do we diversify, uh, the physician pipeline.

[00:37:07] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. Now, and I’ve, you know, I’m of the age where I’ve talked to a lot of different friends who have had unfortunate experiences, difficult experiences, you know, in the medical field when dealing with doctors. You know, we obviously have high profile people like Beyonce and Sierra, uh, Serena Williams when they were delivering.

[00:37:24] There’s also this growing movement, it seems, of, say, Black midwifery. And can you just educate us a little bit more about how that fits into the larger medical narrative that you’ve

[00:37:34] written about?

[00:37:36] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah, you know, so this is another piece of history that I included in the book that there was another policy, um, called the Shepherd Townsend Act that actually it kind of medicalized the process of birthing and until that point, midwives were the ones that were primarily involved in assisting at birth.

[00:37:57] And so once this policy came out, essentially, this policy made it seem like using midwives resulted in lower quality care where it was the reverse midwives actually provide wonderful quality care, but as a result and medicalized the process of birthing and obstetric gynecologist, as you, as you know, really became the primary providers, but we know that and other high income countries mid midwifery care during the birthing process actually associated with better with better maternal and infant outcomes. Like, it’s a good thing. And so that’s why, like, there’s been this push really to, you know, um, think about how do we increase the number of midwives?

[00:38:38] How do we get midwives more involved in in birthing processes? Because we know that ultimately, we Improves outcomes for our patients.

[00:38:47] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely. Okay, so we’re gonna take a quick commercial break. When we come back, I’ll be with Dr. Uché Blackstock, and we’re gonna play Black Lightning.

[00:38:57] Okay, Uché, we’re back. This is my favorite round. Now, this is the round for our listeners where there is no correct answer, okay? You just tell me the first thing that pops in your head, and we’ll go from there. All right? Okay,

[00:39:08] okay.

[00:39:08] Dr. Uché Blackstock: How many questions are there?

[00:39:10] Dr. Christina Greer: It’s just, it’s like five or so. Okay, ready?

[00:39:12] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Okay, okay.

[00:39:13] Dr. Christina Greer: Favorite thing about New York City?

[00:39:15] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Oh, um, Brooklyn. Brooklyn, my, the borough that I grew up in, is the coolest, it’s the coolest place.

[00:39:20] Dr. Christina Greer: Absolutely.

[00:39:21] Coffee or tea?

[00:39:23] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Oh, tea definitely. I’ve never been a coffee drinker.

[00:39:25] Dr. Christina Greer: Okay. Audiobook or hard copy?

[00:39:28] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Hard copy. I just love feeling the pages and the book in my, in my hands.

[00:39:33] Dr. Christina Greer: I know.

[00:39:34] I’m such a tactile person. One thing that you wish patients would stop doing?

[00:39:40] Dr. Uché Blackstock: I, I wish they would stop going down the rabbit hole of Googling their symptoms and maybe just come in and ask about, you know, what they’re experiencing because they can find sometimes not so, not so accurate information online.

[00:39:54] Dr. Christina Greer: Right. Okay. An artist or an album you can listen to on repeat?

[00:40:00] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Oh, oh my goodness. Uh, the Fugees first album. Um, I,

[00:40:06] I love.

[00:40:06] Dr. Christina Greer: Dare we say only?

[00:40:07] Dr. Uché Blackstock: More, more than Yeah, I know. Exactly.

[00:40:12] Dr. Christina Greer: Um, okay. Uno or spades?

[00:40:15] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Uno.

[00:40:17] Dr. Christina Greer: Okay. Writing a book. Is it easier or harder than you thought?

[00:40:22] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Oh, so much harder. So much harder. I really, yeah, so much harder.

[00:40:26] I never, I never would have believed it.

[00:40:29] Dr. Christina Greer: Okay. And last question, besides New York City, Brooklyn Reticular, what’s your favorite city?

[00:40:36] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Oh, I love Chicago. I think it’s like one, I think it’s one of the most underrated cities, but it has great food, um, and great culture. Yeah.

[00:40:43] Dr. Christina Greer: And great price point for what you get.

[00:40:45] I feel like the quality.

[00:40:46] Dr. Uché Blackstock: Yeah, exactly.

[00:40:47] Dr. Christina Greer: of Chicago is amazing. Um, just despite the crazy weather. Okay, so I want to thank everyone. I especially want to thank Dr. Blackstock for playing along with us. Make sure you all pick up a copy of Dr. Blackstock’s new book, Legacy, A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine.

[00:41:03] Thank you for listening to the Blackest Questions. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong and Jeffrey Trudeau. And Regina Griffin is our director of podcasts. If you like what you heard, subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode. You can find more from the Griot Black Podcast Network on the Griot app, website, and YouTube.

[00:41:23] theGrio: We started this podcast to talk about not just what Black writers write about, but how. Well, personally, it’s on my bucket list to have one of my books banned. I know that’s probably bad, but I think Ooh, spicy. They were yelling, N word, go home.

[00:41:37] And I was looking around for the N word because I knew it couldn’t be me because I was a queen.

[00:41:42] But I’m telling people to quit this mentality of identifying ourselves by our work. To start to live our lives.

[00:41:48] And to redefine the whole concept of how we work and where we work and why we work in the first place. [00:41:58] My biggest strength throughout my career has been having incredible mentors and specifically Black women. I’ve been writing poetry since I was like 8. You know, I’ve been reading Langston Hughes and James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and so forth and so on since I was like a little kid. Like the banjo. Was blackly Black, right? For many, many, many years. Everybody knew. Cause sometimes I’m just doing some Sam s that cause I just want to do it. Our honor to be here. Thank you for doing the work that you’re doing. Keep shining bright. And we, and like you said, we gonna keep Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.