I am a 78-year old white male who, in spite of not having read much at all of the black experience, feels compelled to respond to this Red Room challenge.
My qualifications underlying this response are slim at best. I do have an old friend (2 or 3 years younger than I) who’s grandfather was instrumental in the early days of the NAACP and whose family has played a significant role in the black community from the beginning of the last century, through the Harlem Renaissance and continues to this day. My recently published novel THE LION DOMINION is set on the island-nation of Jamaica and centered on Haile Selassie’s visit in April 1966. (Regardless of the scores of visits my wife and I have made to Jamaica since the mid-1960’s, and in spite of the many friends we have there, we realize we will always remain tourists.) Obviously, none of this qualifies me as even slightly knowledgeable about the subject of African-American Literature.
However, there is a book I’m currently reading which I’d like to discuss with you. Let me tell you the title and author(s) and a bit about what I’ve read so far which motivated me to recommend it to the Red Room community. (I’ve not finished it yet because I just received an inscribed copy about a week ago and, as most of you writers know, there is a constant struggle to find time to turn away from the keyboard and actually read somebody else’s stuff.) At any rate, the book’s title is SEEING PATIENTS, by Dr. Augustus A. White III, Professor of Medical Education and Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard and the first African American department chief at Harvard’s teaching hospitals. It was published by Harvard University Press, January 2011 just in time for Black History month, and co-authored by another old friend of mine, David Chanoff.
To give you some flavor, in his preface Dr. White outlines his objectives:
“…from the Jim Crow South of Boss Crump to the Presidency of Barack Obama.
In this book I hope to share with you something of what I have seen as a physician
and as an African American. I want to try to explain how my own experiences led
me to think about the biases we all have, and about medical disparities that arise
from those biases and impact health care…..”
Dr. White’s personal journey is fascinating story in its own right: from pre-World War II Memphis, through a lucky chance that brought him first to a boarding school in New England, then to Brown University where he was one of four black students in his class. Later he was the first African American to attend Stanford Medical School, the first black resident at Yale, the first black surgery professor at Yale, and the first black department chief at the Harvard teaching hospitals. Along the way, White was a combat surgeon in Vietnam and a volunteer surgeon at a leprosarium in a Vietcong infested region of that country.
While the particulars of his life story of 75 years are most interesting, sometimes riveting, Dr. White’s most significant lifetime contribution may well be his groundbreaking exploration of bias in healthcare and the movement he has precipitated—culturally competent care-- to change the way medical care is taught and the way it is practiced.
As I stated at the outset, I’m only a little less than halfway through the book and, with the deadline for blog entries less than an hour away, I can only assume that the quality of the book will be sustained through the 2nd half wherein the core of Dr. White’s treatment of the question of bias (experience, research methods, questions, conclusions and prescriptions) is detailed.
Considering the contentious status of the current discussion of the country’s health-care system in general and the specific relationship of SEEING PATIENTS to the questions of conscious and unconscious bias and quality of care, Dr. White’s is an important voice.