Addressing health disparities during COVID-19
A dermatologist applies her own life experiences to address health disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Dr. Bowers' story
It’s hard to imagine being a doctor and not being acutely aware of longstanding health care disparities in the United States. In my role as Vice Chair of Health Equity for the Department of Internal Medicine at Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine, I draw from my personal experiences as an immigrant, woman of color, and physician to address disparities in my Springfield community.
The pandemic underscored the urgency of this work, exposing disparities and the resulting inequity which are built into the fabric of our society and have deadly consequences.
When COVID-19 hit, SIU was well-equipped to launch our Equity COVID Response Team thanks to the leadership of our Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Wendi Wills El-Amin and her years of building relationships with local organizations and community members. Our team’s priorities included educating our community about COVID-19, disseminating masks to the public, and understanding local COVID-19 disparities. The COVID Response Team and SIU Pandemic HealthCare Worker Program collaborated with the local health department to collect racial demographic and ZIP code data to identify inequities and guide our outreach and education efforts.
After listening to community members, our Equity COVID Response Team created culturally relevant educational materials that addressed community members’ needs and concerns and included graphics with different skin tones and hair styles. We launched a marketing campaign to normalize mask wearing and assuage our Black community’s concern that wearing masks can falsely signify the intent to conduct criminal activity. We released these resources through our trusted community partners, and we received robust positive feedback.
Our team held a virtual town hall for our expert panel to answer questions from community members about the testing process and ways to keep the community as safe as possible. We hope this educational outreach will increase safety and decrease the virus’s spread.
My participation in our COVID Response team demonstrates there is so much dermatologists can do to help change the trajectory of COVID-19 for different populations in our communities, decrease health care disparities and increase health equity. Community service is incredibly rewarding, and I consider it our duty as physicians.
The family practice physician's perspective
“While our Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity Council has made strides for many years, the major disparities in COVID-19 risk and outcomes challenged us to think differently about our work, and underscored its importance. I’m proud to work with colleagues across specialties, including Dr. Bowers, as well as community leaders and other sectors to reduce disparities, flatten the curve, and ultimately save lives. We know this will be a long journey, and we remain steadfast in our commitment.”
─ Wendi Wills El-Amin, MD, Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Associate Professor, Family and Community Medicine and Medical Education; and Family Medicine Physician, Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine
Patient & physician stories
Learn how board-certified dermatologists have helped patients with serious skin disease and collaborated with other doctors to enhance patient care.Browse all stories