As a first year medical student, Damon Tweedy, MD, noticed a theme echoing through his lessons on various conditions and ailments, from the common to the most complex and rare. Many conditions are described as more common in the black population or as having a worse course in black Americans. Tweedy surmised that being black could be bad for your health, and he wondered why.
His search for those answers and personal experiences with race in medicine are chronicled in his New York Times Bestseller “Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine,” released in September 2015.
In a recent lecture at Upstate Medical University, Tweedy discussed the book, giving examples that illustrate healthcare disparities and the underlying causes that contribute to them from his own experience. “There was never a why to any of it. There was never a something that could be done about it discussed,” he said. “It was presented as just the way it is, without question. I wanted to ask the question.”
Tweedy sees three levels to the issues of race in medicine, which are discussed in his book. The first is the systemic level where race in medicine can impact access to care, job and education opportunities and perpetuate residential segregation. The second is the doctor/patient perspective, which is impacted by each individual’s personal bias and can affect the way care is provided and received. The third is the individual or specific community lens. This final level can determine the importance of self care, and our ability to live a well life.
Tweedy asserts that each individual should explore reasons for their less healthy choices and commit to making changes.
Tweedy also explores the duality of his life as a black man and as a doctor in his book. He hopes that others will identify with his story and that a dialogue will be opened to confront the issues of race in medicine today. This visit to the Upstate campus was sponsored by Student and Multicultural Affairs and was part of the university-wide Black History Month celebration.
Listen to an NPR interview with Tweedy