A Message from Our WCMS Foundation Chair: Dr. Carol Coulson

September 4, 2020

It’s that time of year when we lament the end of summer yet find rejuvenation in the promise of fall. There is a hint of crispness and pumpkin spice latte in the early morning air. The school buses are back in the neighborhood elementary school parking lot ready to roll when they can. Whether you watched your kindergartner go to his first class ever, or packed your college senior off for her last year, it’s a bittersweet time.

So why do we let our children go to school or teach them at home? I’d venture a guess that the answer is complex and includes sentiments as disparate as knowledge acquisition, social experience, and legal requirements. As medical providers, we know the power of education: for without it, we would not be allowed to practice our craft. Just as many chronic health conditions, like diabetes, respond best to lifestyle changes and medications, education is not a stand-alone solution to the ills facing our society right now. It is a starting place, however, for discussion and understanding, whether we are targeting the pandemic or racial injustice.

Reflect on these statistics for a moment:

-57% of medical school instructors are female, yet women represent only 26% of full professors in academic medical centers and only 5% of women faculty are Black in those same centers

-An analysis of 1.8 million hospital births in Florida shows that the mortality for Black infants is cut in half when they are cared for by Black doctors compared to white doctors

-Less than 3% of the over 1200 physicians actively practicing in Buncombe County are under-represented minorities despite comprising approximately 15% of the population

As providers, we are scientists by training and doers by nature. While every professional society to which I belong (WCMS included) has issued a statement on diversity and inclusion, in the words of Marvin Ellison (Lowe’s CEO and one of only 4 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500) to Business NC, “Sometimes you have to decide to talk less and do more”.  I offer two actions with local impact, both of which involve the Dr. Charles Blair Health Scholar Fund: become a medical mentor and/or make a tax-deducible donation to the fund.

This fund honors a local African American physician and provides scholarships for minority youth pursuing health careers.  Dr. Blair founded the New Hope Community Health Center and the Ashville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement.  He served on the North Carolina Minority Health Advisory Council and was a longtime member of the Buncombe County Medical Society (subsumed by WCMS). Underrepresented minority high school seniors with a minimum GPA of 3.0 attending Buncombe County or Asheville city schools are eligible for the minority medical mentoring program (MMMP).  MMMP interns experience rotations in clinics, hospitals, and private practices; attend grand rounds and resident didactics, participate on ABIPA action teams; and receive college and communication skills guidance.

 From inception in 2005 to the latest graduate survey in January 2018, 59 interns had completed the program.  In that survey, of the 37 respondents, all finishing between 2010 and 2017, all attended community, technical, or four year colleges or universities.  Received degrees were overwhelmingly in science, nursing, and allied health professions.  The most recent class includes 7 seniors from 3 local public high schools. Thanks to record donations exceeding 15,000 dollars this year, each graduate, many of whom will be first generation college students, received a scholarship to help defray higher education costs. These students will be attending UNCC, UNCG, UNCCH, NCCU, and ABTech.

I have no doubt that I owe every daily luxury I take for granted to the many Black patients of Baltimore city who schooled me in both the practice and art of medicine, well beyond what I learned in the lecture halls. The least I can do is make the way to a medical career a little clearer for an energetic bright student of color from our own community. Become a medical mentor in your practice or make a donation today through WCMS. Your contribution will certainly make a difference in many local lives and together we can have another record year.

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