September 15, 2011

Speaker says health disparities and bias are dangerous, costly

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Harvard’s Augustus White III, M.D., Ph.D., speaks at Vanderbilt about the impact of health disparities. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Speaker says health disparities and bias are dangerous, costly

Augustus White III M.D., Ph.D., Ellen and Melvin Gordon Distinguished Professor of Medical Education and professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School, was at Vanderbilt last week to deliver the School of Medicine Dean’s Lecture.

White spoke about what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would want us to know about disparity in health care, and said that disparity in health is extremely dangerous because illness is a time when people are most vulnerable.

He told the audience of mostly medical students that bias is very real, affects multiple populations, is costly to society and impacts everyone in some way, whether they realize it or not.

White has written a memoir, "Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care," exploring how subconscious stereotyping influences doctor-patient interactions, diagnosis and treatment. He challenged the students and others in the lecture hall to examine their own minds to search for ways they feel bias and to then talk openly with others about their views.

White said it was imperative for young providers to seek a way to assure health care is provided in an equal and unbiased way to all patients.

In 1961, White became the first African-American graduate of Stanford University Medical School and, two years later, the first African-American surgical resident at Yale University School of Medicine. After serving in Vietnam, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.