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Cardiologist and historian collaborate to teach racial health disparities course

December 14, 2018

Cardiologist and historian collaborate to teach racial health disparities course

Eric Herschthal (center left) and Dr. Quinn Capers (center right) pose with students from the class they co-teach, AFAMAST 4326: Race and Medicine.

The list of health disparities between black and white America is long and troublesome.

White Americans, on average, live four years longer than black Americans. Infant mortality rates are twice as high in black babies than they are in white babies. Black women are three to four times more likely to succumb to pregnancy-related complications than white women. Black Americans are twice as likely to develop diabetes as their white counterparts.

Racial health disparities have for years been a major issue for Dr. Quinn Capers, a cardiologist at the Wexner Medical Center and associate dean for admissions in the College of Medicine. After earning his medical degree from Ohio State in 1991, Capers was a resident trainee at an academic medical center in Atlanta when he saw two people — a black man and a white man who both came in suffering heart attacks — receive vastly different treatment. That disconcerting experience fueled Capers’ desire to raise awareness of racial health disparities, and this fall semester, he co-taught an undergraduate course he created around the topic, AFAMAST 4326: Race and Medicine.

The class is housed in the Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS), and it is co-taught by AAAS postdoc Eric Herschthal, a historian and journalist whose areas of expertise include race, slavery and medicine. AFAMAST 4326 examines the ways in which black and white Americans receive health care differently, explores their historical background and root causes, and discusses potential solutions to these inequalities. Students learn about the history of medical mistreatment of black Americans, how implicit bias influences medical treatment of African Americans, the connections between race and genetics, and how systemic racism perpetrates racial health disparities.

Leveraging the knowledge of both a physician and an historian, Capers says, leads to an interdisciplinary course that draws students from a variety of academic interests and allows its instructors to cover the nuanced topic of racial health disparities comprehensively.

Having Dr. Herschthal involved really allows us to talk about not just contemporary health care disparities, which I consider my expertise, but he really allows us to go back and see kind of where this started,” Capers said. “I think interdisciplinary education can be really helpful in cementing a concept. We can talk about how the health care system treats [African Americans] today, but we’ve got this incredible historical component. I think that’s an incredible one-two punch.”

The diverse nature of the course has led to a diverse set of students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Capers and Herschthal agree that while the course’s subject matter is vital for students entering medical school, it is just as important for students who have career interests ranging from journalism to law to economics.

“We want them to feel comfortable understanding systemic racism and the ways in which it manifests itself,” Herschthal said. “In this case, it manifests itself in health care, but racism can manifest itself in all areas of society.”

Capers and Herschthal give roughly a third of the lectures each, and the other third are delivered by various physicians and faculty from the College of Medicine and the Wexner Medical Center. Though the course focuses on health, Capers crafted it so students don’t need a background in medicine to understand its concepts.

Ultimately, Capers and Herschthal hope students are encouraged to take a step back from problems and think about what the root causes are. Capers and Herschthal plan to offer the course each fall, with plans for a course fall 2019 co-sponsored by AAAS and the College of Medicine but targeted primarily to undergraduates.

“It’s very timely in American society right now to have this course,” Capers said. “Obviously, we’re having a lot of discussions about race, about immigrants, about how we treat people who aren’t like us. I’m really proud of this course, proud to be working with Dr. Herschthal and proud of AAAS and their support.”

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An @OSUafamast postdoc teamed up with an @OSUWexMed cardiologist to co-teach a course on race and medicine. #ASCDaily


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