Racism as a Health Crisis

Racism as a Health Crisis

Carle Illinois College of Medicine was founded on the principle of innovative thinking by being the first college of medicine in the world with a curriculum that fuses engineering, technology, medicine, and the humanities through all four years of medical education. We believe in the power of innovation to achieve the transformative and sustainable change we are seeking. It is time to deploy the tremendous power of innovative thinking in medical schools and our broader communities to address the health crisis called racism.

The Association of American Medical Colleges captures the urgency of Racism as a Health Crisis in their June 1, 2020 statement: “Throughout our country’s history, racism has affected every aspect of our collective national life – from education to opportunity, personal safety to community stability, to the health of people in our cities large and small, and in rural America.”

Furthermore COVID-19 has illustrated the deadly impact of racism on marginalized communities of color across our nation. Higher rates of deaths from COVID-19 are often due to structures, systems, and policies that create social and economic inequities. These social and economic inequities result in poor health outcomes, health disparities, and lower life expectancy for communities of color. We are struck by the gifts and talents that society misses out on due to these inequities.

In order to center Racism as a Health Crisis, Carle Illinois College of Medicine is making the following commitments:

  • The Health Maker Lab dedicated its Fall 2020 Make-a-Thon to addressing racism as a health crisis, and seek disruptive and innovative ideas that will help solve long-standing health disparities and related challenges. The Fall Make-A-Thon is a yearly event that brings our community together in an exciting and high-energy team-based innovation competition that is open to all medical students in the college of medicine. In addition, we will welcome community members, businesses leaders, and healthcare workers from Urbana-Champaign and throughout the state of Illinois to our teams. The winners of the Make-A-Thon receive $10,000 in resources to access the comprehensive Health Maker Lab network, as well as innovation training and mentorship to develop and implement their winning idea.
  • The Health Maker Lab leadership is working with faculty and staff across campus to develop inexpensive and scalable personal protective equipment as well as frontier COVID-19 testing and exposure notification technologies. The leadership is committed to ensuring community members, especially communities of color, are involved in the process of developing these technologies, and that they also have opportunities to benefit from these innovations. Given the disproportionate negative impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color, these innovations have disproportionate potential to positively impact these same communities and therefore society.
  • The Health Maker Lab is creating a new Maker Lab Node, Designing Resiliency and Well-being (DRAW), in collaboration with others on campus and in the community. DRAW will also partner with STEM Illinois (an intergenerational public engagement program). The goal of the new node is to use a culture of innovation to create well-being tools that decrease social determinants of health and health disparities while promoting health equity.
  • Initiated a thematic call in Fall 2020 for Innovation Pathway proposals on projects that aim to address health disparities and racism in healthcare. The Innovative Pathway Program is an opportunity for medical students to work with a faculty mentor and team to propose independent research projects across disciplines that intersect with medicine. Small grants are awarded to students of selected proposals for pursing their questions and for reporting results.
  • Faculty, staff, and students at Carle Illinois College of Medicine are participating in a joint Task Force on Racial Reform and Social Justice with the University of Illinois College of Medicine to collectively and collaboratively share personal stories and perspectives, and develop local action initiatives and solutions.
  • Establish a new Office of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence in Carle Illinois College of Medicine. This new office will include committed staff as well as dedicated time from individuals from all units across the College. The mission of the office is to coalesce and coordinate efforts to ensure a climate free of racism by not only intersecting with every other unit within the college, but also by facilitating faculty, staff, and student engagement in campus- and community-wide activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
  • Expand our pathway programs to become a continuum that begins with middle-school children in our community (STEM Illinois); continues through high-school (STEM Illinois, SPHERES-Sparking High-Schoolers’ Excitement for Research in Engineering and Science; into undergraduate education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Illinois Promise, REACH-Research and Education for the Advancement of Compassionate Healthcare); then through Carle Illinois College of Medicine (Carle Illinois Student National Medical Association chapter); and finally toward graduate medical education. This pathway continuum will enable the education and development of next-generation physician-innovators from diverse racial, ethnic, and other groups in medicine to join us in not only addressing the racial disparities in healthcare, but also the disparities in racial demographics of our physicians and leaders in medicine.

Through these defined commitments, along with other actions and activities currently being developed and discussed, Carle Illinois College of Medicine will direct a focused spotlight on health disparities and racism in healthcare, guided by our innovation and innovative thinking.