“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?'”
Today is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Some of us will go to work as usual and others will enjoy a three day weekend and the majority of us will remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as someone who shaped our nation and inspired us to be better people. I know that he was not perfect but that’s okay. What he stood for and taught was perfect. According to the internet, even Mother Teresa and Gandhi had flaws.
As healthcare workers, we can answer the question posed by King on a daily basis. What are we doing for others? We take care of sick people; elderly people; the most vulnerable individuals in society. We have noble professions. We save lives and help people die peacefully in their home surrounded by family and friends when the time comes. We are compassionate. The support staff that ensure that nurses continue to have the ability to take care of patients are equally as important. We have answers to Dr. King’s question.
But can we do more?
In the spirit of Martin Luther King’s devotion to equality for all, we need to recognize that Healthcare disparities are very real. I am not talking about genetic factors that predispose various races and ethnicities to certain conditions but rather how long it takes someone to receive help and what happens after they are diagnosed.
Black Americans are three times more likely to have a leg amputated related to diabetes than their non-hispanic white counterparts. Areas in the rural south are most vulnerable. I did not need a study to reveal that little secret. The study alluded to the fact that Black Americans are less likely to have their total cholesterol screened and seek treatment later. Another study revealed that they are often checked for diabetic retinopathy later. Still more surprises.
The American Cancer Society reveals that the cancer death rate among African American men is 27% higher compared to non-Hispanic white men. For African American Women, it is 11% higher than non-hispanic white women. This study didn’t allude to any underlying cause but I doubt it has to do with early diagnosis or prompt treatment.
Hispanics have higher rates of cervical, liver, and stomach cancers than non-Hispanic whites.
Non-hispanic whites have a much higher incidence of death from heroin overdoses.
The list goes on as most of you know.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
If you are unable to establish equality in healthcare for everyone, start with your patients. For some, that might mean writing a list of screenings to take to their MD so they can be ordered or results reported to the agency. It might mean arranging transportation for Medicaid patients because getting to the doctor is difficult for rural patients. You might include the family in teaching about exercise to improve circulation to the lower extremities and even encourage them to walk together (because you nailed diabetic foot care). Learn some of the ethnic foods eaten by your patients and help your patients determine a healthy way to prepare them. Be creative. Individualize your care plans.
Statistically, your patients don’t amount to a hill of beans and the changes you effect won’t alter the statistics but your patients are not statistics. Leading a patient and their family to the changes that will forever improve the quality of their lives is a small act of greatness.