Shirin Podury Contributing Writer
Richmonders gathered Friday and Saturday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for the Spirit of the Heart program, hosted by the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC).
ABC sponsored the event to facilitate a discussion on ways to increase diversity among cardiologists.
Founded in 1974, ABC “realized there was a great disparity in minority communities as [it] relates to cardiovascular disease for representation and community work nationwide,” said Hope Allen, a producer of the Spirit of the Heart program.
The Health and Education Fair was the conclusion of three events hosted Oct. 12-13. Preceding it was outreach training for health advocates and professionals as well as ABC’s Community Leaders Forum, focusing on “The Impact of Diversity on Cardiovascular Disease.”
Kevin Harris, VCU associate vice president for Academic Health Sciences, works closely with ABC and was involved with the event’s production.
“Research shows us that the more diverse a group is when dealing with complex issues such as healthcare, the more high quality results will come to the table,” Harris said.
Harris explained that diversity among medical practitioners is important as it breaks a wall in patient-doctor relationships when both parties are of the same race.
“My primary care physician is African-American — that alone is a neutral thing,” Harris said. “But, because he’s providing excellent care while also relating to my experiences — not just clinical issues but also social determinants of health — we have a shared understanding.”
From a student perspective, Harris said doors are closed to students when they consider a degree and don’t see their identity represented in the field.
Director of the VCU Health Division for Health Sciences Diversity Adrien DeLoach said it is important to recruit black students as science majors.
“Minorities are represented [as] only 10 percent in healthcare,” DeLoach said.
He highlighted that the lack of diversity among medical practitioners might perpetuate the health disparities and leave a lasting gap between majority and minority patient care.
Other speakers and panels were introduced throughout Saturday’s four-hour-long fair. Topics included “Diversity in Clinical Trials,” “Child Obesity,” “Organ & Donor Tissue Donation” and “Women’s Health.”
Noting the importance of community outreach, Allen said each of the panel members were “decision-makers” in their hometowns.
“These are the ones who influence policy,” she said. “They have the ability to push the needle and make a change in terms of the social disparities in the community.”
Attendees learned about cardiovascular health-related products and programs. People also partook in free screenings and tests for genetic cancer, HIV, general heart health and diabetes, among other conditions. Rite Aid also provided free vaccinations for the upcoming flu season.
Other booths advertised discounted services — such as mental health awareness and nutrition — offered by both local and national organizations for certain areas.
“What was really interesting for me was the genetic testing for cancer,” said attendee Cassandra Thomas. “To be able to see my risk, as I have a predisposition, is very important.”
As for student involvement, both Harris and Allen agreed that youth should be encouraged to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math. They also said seeing doctors working with passion outside a hospital setting is essential to solving diversity issues in the community.
“It’s important [for everyone] to see that doctors really care when they don’t have the white coat on,” Harris said. “They still want to treat people and they have a continuing passion for health.”