Since 1928, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has designated an annual theme for Black History Month. The 2022 theme is Black Health and Wellness, which “not only includes one’s physical body, but also emotional and mental health.” Historically, people of color have faced major discrepancies and overt discriminatory practices in healthcare. We’ve shared some of their stories in the additional resources below. Parallels can be drawn between these practices and the historical treatment of the often forgotten and overlooked populations that we care for at Wellpath.
Our Wellpath mission – to provide quality care to every patient with compassion, collaboration and innovation – is also a commitment that each patient will receive the care they need, regardless of race, color, sex, creed, sexual orientation, or other group identity. It is also a commitment to all Wellpath team members, that they will be treated with respect and dignity. Today’s message has two goals: to highlight some Black pioneers of medicine and to provide some additional thoughts on building an inclusive work environment for all team members.
Celebrating Black Excellence in Medicine
We celebrate the contributions of Black innovators who triumphed to establish their legacy in medicine. We encourage you to share some of their stories with your team members.
- Dr. James McCune Smith: the first African American to obtain a medical degree. He was also an avid abolitionist and helped aid refugee slaves through the Underground Railroad.
- Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: the first African American woman to become a medical doctor. She was also a published author, whose work focused on maternal and pediatric medical care.
- Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta: the first African American faculty member of a medical school in the US. He was a Civil War veteran, and the first African American physician in the US Army.
- Mary Eliza Mahoney: the first African American to graduate from an American school of nursing. She was also among the first women in Boston to register to vote in 1920.
- Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller: the first African American practicing psychiatrist. He also made extensive contributions to the study of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Dr. Joycelyn Elders: the first African American and second woman named US Surgeon General. One of her major legacies as Surgeon General was promoting reproductive education for young African American women.
As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s an important reminder that in supporting team member Health and Wellness, we must also keep our commitments through action. Here are some simple actions that leaders can take to “walk the talk” on inclusion:
- Commit to listening. Ensure team members who feel marginalized have their stories heard and their feelings acknowledged. Diverse perspectives help us form a more well-rounded understanding. Look at your site engagement survey results and provide opportunities for all team members to share their perspectives, especially those who feel they may not have had that opportunity before.
- Take meaningful action. Listening helps develop empathy. That paves the way for meaningful actions and standards that empower all team members. You might recognize gaps that can be adjusted to help address the concerns of marginalized team members. Be clear about appropriate behaviors and activities so that future concerns and prohibited activities are addressed fairly, consistently, and timely.
- Reckon with the past and change the future. Acknowledge when mistakes are made. Apologize when it’s your mistake and help team members make amends and heal. You may have team members who struggle with trust due to past situations, but you have the power as their current leader to address their concerns.
- Dig deeply to understand what you can change. Ask yourself: Whose voice is missing? How diverse is my decision-making team? Is there something that I am (or my team is) doing that might marginalize team members? How can I ensure all of my team members feel included, and that they have growth opportunities here?
- Back up your ideals with real change. Work with your teams to take meaningful actions. Set actionable goals to enact changes that you and your team have committed to. Follow-up to ensure that your teams are seeing and feeling the changes you’re making. Welcome constructive feedback.
We can continue to build a work environment and culture that facilitates Health and Wellness for all team members, but to do so, we need to include a diverse range of perspectives to inform what we build.
- Black Health and Wellness | ASALH
- The History of Racism in Healthcare | NCSDDC
- African Americans in Health Professions | CHAAMP
- The Fear Black Employees Carry | HBR
Connected Leadership is Wellpath’s ongoing leadership education series published by Ann Hatcher, Wellpath’s Chief Human Resources Officer