LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Over the weekend, ‘Patients R Waiting’ held its 4th Annual Diversity in Medicine Conference. The three-day event involved virtual seminars, a blood drive, and CPR training. The goal of the conference is to prepare underrepresented students for careers in medicine.

Dr. Cherise Hamblin, Patients R Waiting founder, and Dr. Sharee Livingston, Patients R Waiting board member,
discuss health disparities and how they are working to address them.

“There are approximately 90,000 excess deaths in the U.S. each year due to health disparities,” says Dr. Cherise Hamblin, founder of Patients R Waiting and OB-GYN physician at Lancaster General Penn Medicine.

The study “What If We Were Equal? A Comparison Of The Black-White Mortality Gap In 1960 And 2000” found that “an estimated 83,570 excess deaths each year could be prevented in the United States if [the] black-white mortality gap could be eliminated.”

“It is a public health crisis,” Hamblin says.

Dr. Sharee Livingston, OB-GYN physician at UPMC Lititz and Patients R Waiting board member, explains that education and access to health care are just two factors that contribute to health disparities. She also noted that implicit bias could additionally affect how medical workers treat their patients.

Patients R Waiting is attempting to address such disparities by increasing diversity in the medical field.

A 2018 study found that Black male patients were more likely to opt for preventative care measures after meeting with a doctor of the same race. Communication between Black doctors and Black patients also appeared to be better than communication between non-Black doctors and Black patients.

“Patients are likely to be more compliant if they can identify with the person who’s giving them the advice. If you sound like them, you look like them, you have a particular understanding,” says Livingston.

“Diversity in medicine saves lives,” Hamblin says.

About 13% of the U.S. population is Black. However, in 2016, only 7% of physicians identified as Black, Livingston said, citing a USA Today article.

Patients R Waiting is working to increase that percentage by “increasing the pipeline of minority clinicians, making that pipeline less leaky, and supporting minority clinicians in practice,” says Hamblin.

Patients R Waiting and the 4th Annual Diversity in Medicine Conference

“Becoming a physician has to start with having a desire to do it or thinking that it’s possible,” explains Hamblin. This is where increasing the pipeline of minority clinicians begins — by showing younger students their options for working in the medical field.

After students are interested in entering health care professions, Patients R Waiting works to support them through their schooling (making the pipeline less leaky) and continues supporting them after they’ve entered the field.

This year’s Diversity in Medicine (DIM) Conference was directed toward high school and college students working toward jobs in health care. It included several virtual seminars, as well as a blood drive and a day of CPR and STOP THE BLEED training. In addition, the conference included a diversity, equity, and inclusion seminar for educators.

Originally, the conference was supposed to be a weekend-long, in-person event hosted by Franklin & Marshall College, but as COVID-19 restrictions limited gatherings, Dr. Hamblin and Dr. Livingston had to make new plans.

The conference became a combination of small in-person events and virtual seminars. As F&M’s campus was closed to visitors, UPMC Lititz became the new host site.

Livingston says the new format enabled the conference to reach a national audience; over 300 people registered for conference events. Future DIM Conferences may continue as a combination of virtual and in-person programming, says Hamblin.

If you missed the DIM Conference this year, Hamblin says it will be held again next year on the last weekend of September. Patients R Waiting also hosts a “What the Health?” book club that meets virtually on the last Wednesday of every month and a Bowl-a-thon planned for December.

Editor’s Note: a study previously included in this article used different methodologies and was removed for clarity.