The Gap: Anna Howard Shaw Keynote Address on Racial Disparities in Healthcare

Albion alumna and current assistant professor at Oakland University’s William Beaumont School of Medicine, Berkley Browne ‘00, answers questions concerning her work. Browne focuses on disparities in healthcare and medical education (Photo by Natalie Altayeb).

As part of Albion’s celebration of Women’s History Month, Dr. Berkley Browne, ‘00, was featured as the keynote speaker for the Anna Howard Shaw lecture on March 23. Browne is an alumna and the current assistant dean at Oakland Univerity’s William Beaumont School of Medicine. At the lecture, she spoke to Albion students and faculty about disparities in healthcare. 

According to Browne, 75% of current Black healthcare professionals completed their medical education in one out of two historically Black medical schools out of fear of exclusion at other institutions. 

Browne said, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, 50% of medical students believe in racist healthcare myths pertaining to Black people feeling less pain than their White counterparts.

Introduced by Iron Mountain junior, Moniqué Hernandez, Browne explained the root of medical bias and what can be done about it. 

Browne defined medical bias as “discriminatory practices and policies that limit diversity in public health and research.” She said a majority of medical bias-related research is conducted by students from the impacted communities, something she sees as a problem.

However, some of those students from minority groups never even get to that step, Browne said. They’ve been denied access to funding and resources that could help their community. 

The Flexner Report of 1910 created a system in which minority groups were forced out of medical school and those who were admitted faced unfair competition from their white, male peers. 

“As somebody who interviews applicants, some phenomenal applicants won’t get in because we’re still operating on a 1910 paradigm,” Browne said. 

Browne said minority students who are admitted to medical school today – especially at predominantly white institutions – often face prejudice in lectures. Once they begin their third year, they are statistically underrepresented in clinical rotations. Browne’s presentation highlighted this in the analysis of a medical student-created textbook.

According to Mind the Gap,” a textbook created by medical student Malone Mukwender to illustrate disease symptoms on Black and Brown skin, a large portion of minority students were left out of study materials, and medical students were only taught how to diagnose conditions on white patients. 

“A medical student should not have to write a book to ensure that minority groups are helped,” Browne said while pointing to a screen featuring the textbook.

Browne said misrepresentation creates a toxic environment that healthcare professionals struggle to explain.

 Primarily, the current healthcare system teaches students that certain groups matter less. This in turn bleeds into the relationship between a patient and doctor, who are unaware of this relationship’s existence, she said. 

“Such practices lead to instances where women wait 29% more than their male counterparts for heart attack treatment,” Browne said. 

Being aware of what is lacking in healthcare is the first step in addressing it, Browne said. In 2020, she worked with students to establish the Kaleidoscope Project, a project that celebrates and supports Oakland’s LGBTQ+ population and helps them secure funding for directed projects. 

Oakland Medical School’s website states that the “Kaleidoscope Project aims to promote inclusivity among all realms of medical education — from the classroom to patient care.” 

Browne herself has always advocated for minority rights because, without that activism, entire populations are at a disadvantage, she said. 

“We need to understand the root of the problem and not just fix it,” Browne said. 

At the very end of her presentation, Browne spoke about how Albion College can understand the root of the problem.

“A dream I have had for a long time is to take a course on the history of medical education in the United States as an introduction to racial disparity. A faculty member needs to step up and teach that class,” Browne said. “We need to become more aware of what’s going on in healthcare.” 

About Killian Altayeb 25 Articles
Killian Altayeb is from Novi, Michigan and is a second-year student at Albion College. They are a Biochemistry Major with a journalistic interest in all things public health. Contact Killian via email at NA12@albion.edu.

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