Racial healing, equity, and transformation in medicine

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We are experiencing converging pandemics with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, economic vulnerability, and racial injustice, said Gail Christopher, DN, at the 2021 Institute for Functional Medicine Annual International Conference held virtually June 3-5.

Christopher described the Health Opportunity and Equity (HOPE) initiative, which measures 27 conditions that are modifiable by policy and action, including:

  1. Health outcomes
  2. Socioeconomic factors
  3. Community and safety factors
  4. Physical environment
  5. Access to healthcare

Racism deeply effects individuals throughout life. In healthcare, we often hear of social determinants of health. Within the functional medicine matrix, practitioners must look at how experiences of implicit biases in the healthcare setting impact patients and adherence to treatment plans. Social determinants of health are part of the patient’s story, Christopher said, and must influence the way a practitioner works with the patient.

The healthcare industry is moving in the right direction, but much work remains, she said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes racism as a public health crisis. Many programs are being put in place at both the national and state level to expand access to healthcare in schools and communities.  

However, achieving health equity involves more than just access to healthcare, Christopher said. How and where we live, work, and play determines many opportunities tied to overall wellbeing. HOPE data shows that if all individuals living in the United States had fair and just opportunities, 70 million more people would live in neighborhood with low poverty, 55 million more adults would love in households with a livable income, 54 million more adults would achieve very good or excellent health, and 32 million more people would have food security.

In the functional and integrative medicine fields, there is tremendous opportunity to create welcoming environments and diversify the profession, Christopher said. She introduced a five-part framework, Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT):

  1. Narrative change
  2. Racial healing and relationship building
  3. Separation
  4. Law
  5. Economy

“We need to be racially diverse,” said Christopher. “The large majority of people who have access to functional medicine are not low-income marginalized communities. There is work to be done there. We have to take this on as a profession.”

Editor's note: This article is part of our live coverage of the 2021 Institute for Functional Medicine Annual International Conference. Click here for a list of full coverage.