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Students explain healthcare inequality

| Monday, January 30, 2017

The first “Soup and Substance” discussion of the year — hosted by the student club GlobeMed — took place on Friday and focused on race and health care.

Seniors Emma Cooper and Madeleine van Zuylen said the discussion was a fitting end to Walk the Walk Week at Notre Dame.

“We [are having] this now because it’s the end of Walk the Walk Week, which has been a week of discussion about diversity and inclusion,” Cooper said. “GlobeMed is a club on campus that’s part of a national organization of student clubs, kind of with the point of creating student leaders who will be advocates for health equity [and] social justice issues starting now and throughout our lifetimes.”

Cooper said she and van Zuylen drew on their experience visiting Laos to discuss healthcare inequality in the United States.

“We have a long-term partner organization in Laos,” she said. “They work on health education and intervention of health disparities within their country. Both Maddie and I have been to Laos and have kind of seen some health disparities that exist within that country … and as part of that have continued that discussion more about disparities and social justice issues within America, as well.”

These disparities are particularly prevalent in how minority patients receive health care, Cooper said.

“There’s a difference in which disadvantaged social groups — who are already experiencing disadvantage or discrimination due to their status — systematically experience greater health care risks than more advantaged social groups,” she said.

There are several different aspects to this problem, van Zuylen said, making it difficult to resolve.

“Healthcare and race is a very large issue,” she said. “It encompasses a lot. There are a lot of different factors that go into inequality in health care. [There’s] a history of mistrust [in certain communities]. If that is already present, you might be less likely to go seek care.”

Cooper and van Zuylen used articles about the lack of representation of black doctors in the medical community, ambulance diversion for minority patients and African American patients going untreated for pain more frequently than white patients to demonstrate certain issues within the U.S. health care system.

“Socioeconomic differences might lead to differences in location in terms of accessing hospitals or even being able to pay for the treatment,” van Zuylen said. “We chose articles that touched on a few of these.”

These articles also raise questions about a patient’s treatment if they are able to afford healthcare, Cooper said.

“Once you’re receiving medical care, [what’s] the quality of care?” she said. “[What’s] the likelihood the same diagnosis would be received by people of different races, different backgrounds?”

Cooper and van Zuylen left attendees with several questions to consider and encouraged them to seek out further resources and opportunities to work toward solving this problem.

“Minorities have less access to healthcare than white people,” Cooper said. “The level of uninsured minorities is 54 percent compared to 13 percent of white people. … [There’s] study after study of different outcomes based on different racial determinants. Why are these the way they are? How can we fix them?”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a junior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, and currently serving as News Editor. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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