The NHMS Health Equity Advisory Council

October 28, 2020

In June, I wrote a blog post entitled Racism is a Public Health Crisis, where I discussed some of the initial data coming out on the disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic borne by communities of color in NH and across the country, set against the backdrop of longstanding disparities in health due to systemic and institutional racism.

Many of you responded to that post, and asked for more tangible ideas as to what we as physicians can do to address some of these inequities. From your input, I followed with Steps Physicians Can Take to Address the Effects of Racism on Health in early July. At the end of that post, I pledged that I personally, and the Medical Society, would work to support Granite State physicians to better understand and then start to address some of these racial inequities in health.

The blog posts that I have the privilege of writing as NHMS president are my thoughts and views alone, and do not necessarily represent the position of the Medical Society. However, around the time last summer that I was writing about racism and health, I brought the issue to our governing NHMS Council, a group of your peers representing various specialties, geographic areas, and perspectives from around our state. This group helps to lead the Medical Society, prioritizes its work, and directs many of its legislative efforts as well as setting Medical Society policies. I can tell you, having served on the Council for a number of years now, that there is a wide variety of opinion, and this group has had many serious and well-argued debates over time. Consensus is preferred, but we don’t always achieve it.

However, when I talked to the Council about making a public statement condemning racism as a public health crisis, there was near-unanimity about making such a statement. The Medical Society works hard to be apolitical, but no one attending that virtual meeting felt that this would be a political statement at all. Rather, it would be a statement of fact regarding the longstanding detrimental effects of institutional racism on the health of black and brown communities in the United States.

Many aspects of public health have unfortunately been politicized in the current climate, but at the end of the day, facts, data, and a critical scientific evaluation of the current evidence still form the foundation of our decision-making in medicine, and the evidence shows us that racism is real, and it has clearly adversely affected the health of entire populations of people. So for an organization whose mission is “to bring together physicians to advocate for the well-being of our patients, for our profession and for the betterment of the public health”, making such a statement would be entirely consistent with who we are as a Medical Society.

But an interesting thing happened when we sat down to craft a statement. We realized that while making a statement is important, so that people clearly know where you stand on an issue, it seemed inadequate. As we came up with a draft and some revisions, we realized we didn’t just want to say something, we wanted to do something.

So I approached the NHMS Council again, this time to ask for support in forming a group that would study the issue of racism and health and advise the Council on actions that the NHMS could take to support racial equity in health. Once again, the feedback and support of your colleagues on the Council was enthusiastic and broad-based, and from there the NHMS Health Equity Advisory Council was formed. This group consists of eight physicians from around the state, some of whom are experts on understanding and improving equity in health, and others who are simply passionate about this topic and wanted to get more involved, along with me and Michael Padmore, our NHMS Director for Advocacy. Our Health Equity Advisory Council has met a number of times now over the past couple of months to identify and apply for grant funding that may help support some specific physician education initiatives. Regardless, we’ll continue to work to identify ways to contribute to the discussion and educate ourselves and our colleagues about issues of racial inequities in health.

In the weeks and months ahead, and beyond, I hope to be able to report to our Council and to all of our NHMS members on the activities of our Health Equity Advisory Council, as we work toward better health for all in New Hampshire. If you have thoughts or ideas about the ways we can make health more equitable in the Granite State, please don’t hesitate to contact Mike Padmore or me – we’d love to hear from you as we undertake this important work.

In health,

John Klunk, MD
NHMS President

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