Opinion: Big issues face Black doctors convening here

(Dreamstime/TNS)

Combined ShapeCaption
(Dreamstime/TNS)

When Grady Hospital opened in 1892, its mission was to provide medical care to Atlanta’s poorest citizens. The facility was designed to have Negro patients receive medical care on one side of the building, and whites receive care on the other, hence, the “H” structural design which continues to this day.

The separation of the races concerned many of Atlanta’s first Black physician-pioneers. Many of those same physicians had been repeatedly denied admission in the American Medical Association, whose membership was restricted to whites only.

In 1893, Atlanta’s Black physicians established the Georgia State Medical Association which, in 1895 birthed the National Medical Association (NMA) and opened membership to physicians of all races.

Combined ShapeCaption
Melody T. McCloud, M.D.

Credit: contributed

Melody T. McCloud, M.D.

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Melody T. McCloud, M.D.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

This week, Atlanta hosts the 125th annual convention of the NMA, which represents more than 30,000 Black physicians from across the country. All attendees are to don masks.

Networking is combined with formal presentations. Annual topics include ethnic health disparities, updated treatment regimens for patients, the loss of practice autonomy, the need for more Blacks to participate in clinical trials and the need for more Blacks to qualify, be accepted into and complete medical school. Young Blacks need to see more Black physicians so that hopefully there will be more who later enter America’s physician workforce. Role models are important, as I well know.

At the end of a PTA meeting, I remember my high school vice principal telling my mother, “Her grades are great, but make sure she takes typing because Black people don’t become doctors.” Fortunately, I knew better because (yes, even then) I had a Black female pediatrician. Seeing can help one believe what is possible.

Additionally, statistics indicate that non-white patients receive better care and follow instructions best when given to them by physicians of their own ethnicity. More Black doctors could help abate disparities.

This year, the NMA has serious matters to address in keeping with its goal to serve Black physicians and the population at large. One matter? Not only the acquisition of Black physicians, but retention.

In a presidential plenary session, a troubling pattern will reportedly be presented: Across the country — from Massachusetts to Washington state, to California, to Georgia — numerous highly credentialed Black physicians (in various specialties including cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and neurosurgery) have filed state and/or federal “systemic discrimination” lawsuits for suspensions from hospital staffs “without cause,” or even for non-patient-care-related conversations. Some hospital health systems and institutions have already paid dearly in settlements, with other cases still pending, including in Georgia.

Second, Black maternal mortality remains of pressing concern. Women’s health and reproductive safety are brought more to the fore given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Concerns include Georgia’s “Heartbeat Law” that now prohibits a woman’s right to abortion after 6 weeks — a time when many women don’t even know they are pregnant. Also, what legal risk do OB-GYNs face when giving care to women who require medically indicated terminations or procedures?

Third, HIV and AIDS continue to affect the Black community in numbers that exceed other demographics. Per the CDC, the highest rates are found in MSM — men who have sex with men. Purely heterosexual Black women remain the fastest-growing female demographic of new HIV cases. This is not due to any genetic predisposition. It’s due to them having sex with high-risk partners, many of whom are “on the down-low” (secretly going both ways); or as the CDC states, men who have sex with men and women (MSMW). And HIV cases are associated with increased rates of other STDs, including syphilis and gonorrhea.

Fourth, compared to last year, overdose deaths are up 40 percent in Blacks, mostly due to tainted fentanyl use. Suicides are also on the rise.

And fifth? Violent crime must be addressed, especially in the Black community, involving Black youth and gangs.

I recently attended a Georgia Emergency Management Agency homeland security conference. One video showed a (perhaps 4-year-old) Black boy, encouraged by his mother, saying he was “born to be a” [particular gang member]! Is that “healthy” parenting?

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics annually ranks the leading causes of death. Sadly, homicide is ranked 6th among the top 10 causes of Black deaths, but not listed at all for the general population. Violent crime is not only a public safety matter, but a public health crisis, including in the very neighborhood where the NMA convention is being held.

Amidst networking and parties, how the NMA will effectively address all these pressing health concerns is paramount and remains to be seen as the convention proceeds.

Dr. Melody T. McCloud is an obstetrician-gynecologist and founder and medical director of Atlanta Women’s Health Care, P.C. She is affiliated with Emory University Hospital Midtown and is an Emory University Ambassador. McCloud is also a media consultant and author of the upcoming book, “Black Women’s Wellness.”