Symposium to examine race, health care

With numerous reports documenting poorer quality of health care and outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities, several prominent experts will take on the issue of disparities in health care during a symposium on campus March 16.

The symposium, “Race, Genetics, Medicine and Health Disparities,” is free and open to the public. The symposium will take place in Pugh Auditorium in the Benson University Center.

The debate over health-care disparities has important implications on everything from issues of social justice and fairness, to health-care reform, to genetics testing, to federal research spending, to educating future health-care workers, said Ana Iltis, director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, which is sponsoring the symposium.

“Numerous studies have documented the disparities in health care even when accounting for other variables. It is not a pretty picture,” she said. “It’s not only about race and ethnicity, but about cultural differences as well.”

Joseph Betancourt, director of the Disparities Solutions Center at Harvard Medical School, will deliver the keynote address on ways to reduce health-care disparities and improve access and outcomes. He will speak at 7 p.m. on “Improving Equality and Achieving Equity: Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care.”

Betancourt is a national leader in efforts to address unequal health care treatment and an expert in cross-cultural care and communication. He has advised government agencies, health-care providers and health plans on ways to improve access to health care. He is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard and director of multicultural education at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Prior to his address, a panel of scholars who have researched and written about health-care inequities will discuss “Race, Genetics and Medicine.” Panelists include: Dr. Barry I. Freedman, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Charmaine Royal, a professor at Duke University; and Pilar Ossorio, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. They will speak at 4 p.m., also in Pugh Auditorium. A reception will follow the panel discussion.

Freedman is the John H. Felts III Distinguished Professor and chief of the Section on Nephrology at the medical school. His research has focused on identifying genes that contribute to complex human disease and racial differences in susceptibility to certain diseases, including kidney disease and diabetes. His work is leading to novel therapies to address severe forms of kidney disease that disproportionately impact the African-American community.

Royal is an associate research professor in the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and the Department of African and African America Studies at Duke. In 1998, she helped start the African-American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study, the first large-scale genetic study of African-Americans to be designed and carried out by a predominantly African-American research team.

Ossorio is associate professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She was previously director of the Genetics Section at the Institute for Ethics at the American Medical Association. In the early 1990s, she served as a consultant on the Human Genome Project and on President Bill Clinton’s Health Care Reform Task Force. She has written extensively on issues pertaining to race and genetics.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Department of Biology, the Center for International Studies and the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at the School of Medicine.

For more details, visit the symposium website.

The bioethics center was established in 2009 to address ethical, social and policy issues relating to biotechnology, biomedical research, health care and public health across a range of disciplines. In addition to academic and public programs, the center also provides competitive grants to faculty members for research and course development in bioethics. Wake Forest also offers a master’s degree in bioethics, drawing on faculty from across the University.

— By Kerry M. King (’85), Office of Communications and External Relations