A Discussion on Diversity in Health Care
Meet Dr. Jabraan Pasha, a native Tulsan and physician who has dedicated his life’s work to effectively providing health care in underrepresented communities. Dr. Pasha takes a deeper look at how social factors impact individual and community health, and has created an implicit bias workshop that reaches both national and global audiences.
He was recently appointed the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at the OU Community School of Medicine, is a graduate of University of Kansas School of Medicine and completed his internal medicine residency at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
Kanati had the pleasure of discussing diversity, health care and how to connect with underrepresented communities with Dr. Pasha.
Question: How important is diversity and making sure underrepresented communities feel represented in health care?
Dr. Pasha: It’s very significant. We know through research that a diverse health care force takes better care of patients. I also think it’s important that everyone has a shot at the American dream we always talk about. Young Black and Brown kids need to see first-hand that they could actually achieve goals they hadn’t considered. It is really important to show that physicians look like them in real life, and can help them.
Question: To that point, how do you think Tulsa and Oklahoma are doing in regards to recruiting students?
Dr. Pasha: We have two medical schools that provide great opportunities for local students. In Oklahoma, we have some limitations and laws for how we can recruit. We can’t offer positions based on race or gender or similar criteria. There is essentially an anti-affirmative action law. We can work to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming and that supports underrepresented students, but if the pool of applicants isn’t there, it presents a challenge. We are trying to work to increase that pipeline, but interest has to be generated in high school, or at an even younger age.
We’ve created a couple of programs, one of which is called Club Scrubs to focus on underrepresented minority groups - Black kids, Native kids, Hispanic kids, kids who come from rural backgrounds, first-generation college students and those from lower socioeconomic households. We are trying to provide opportunities for those who have historically been denied such opportunities.
Question: Can you talk about the health disparities in Tulsa or Oklahoma and what is being done to address those disparities?
Dr. Pasha: It’s important to talk about it in a global or national sense. The U.S. spends $3.5 trillion on health care – more than any other country. Though we spend the most money and maybe have the best technology, it’s not translating. Experts are saying that the health care we provide probably only contributes to about 10% of positive health outcomes. A person’s health is largely determined by social factors like income, education and environment.
In Oklahoma, we generally have pretty poor health when compared to other states. Specifically, in Tulsa, we know that living in North Tulsa, which is the predominantly Black part of town, presents an 11-year life expectancy gap when compared to South Tulsa, which is predominantly white. A lot of groups have worked to get North Tulsa out of a food desert and to focus on early childhood education.
We have to have a complete change in how we look at health care.
Question: Anything else you would like to add?
Dr. Pasha: I’m very passionate about the impact of implicit bias. We know that lower education and lower access to food leads to health care disparities, but racism and discrimination also contributes to poor health outcomes. We know implicit bias, itself, plays a role in these disparities. Implicit bias is when you have an attitude, associations or stereotype that you’re not aware of, but can still affect how you interact with someone or the decision you make.
People can feel stigmatized and misinterpret it as being racist. It doesn’t. It means your brain works the same way as everyone else’s. There’s going to be bias. If we destigmatize that, the walls will come down. People will recognize they hold these biases, consider why and the impact they have. I have conducted trainings and workshops across the U.S. as well as internationally on this topic.