Racial Disparities in Pediatric Healthcare

Last weekend I stood outside and stared at my over-grown garden and debated where I needed to start in cleaning up the mass of weeds that seemed to infiltrate the small-mulched area of now wilting flowers. This past spring had been busy, which unfortunately meant that the garden did not get as much attention as it should have deserved. My heart sank when I spotted the little stone in front of the hostas with the word “hope” carved into it.  You could only could see the stone if you were searching for it because the weeds were covering it.  It wasn’t the overgrown weeds or the wilting flowers that caused my heart to sink—those could quickly be changed—but the symbolism behind its story. Our world has chronically been torn by racial and ethnic disparities due to recent events and I’ve felt the weight of this more heavily. I don’t know if the racial and ethnic disparities are worsening or if we are just becoming more aware of them, but they all feel very real. I saw my garden “hope” stone as a representation of my struggle with seeing hope in the midst of all of this; hope for reform and unity.

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In my search for information about racial and ethnic disparities in our children’s lives I have found some shocking facts about the gaps in their healthcare! One distressing fact is that there is a limited amount of research about the healthcare disparities for children. From the studies that we have, it has been consistently demonstrated that minorities have lower accessibility to pediatric primary care providers, a greater odds of not being referred to a specialist by a healthcare provider, lower rates of insurance coverage, higher asthma prevalence, lower prevalence of breast feeding, lower rates of immunizations, etc.

While I was reading these various studies I felt my frustration level rising. It has been shown that throughout time that the healthcare disparities in children have remained stagnant! Why is this a reality for so many of our little, big fighters? There are 31.4 million children in the U.S. that are of non-white race/ethnicity. We cannot let this issue fade or be placed on the back burner. There is still hope. Though, it may have been overtaken by weeds and wilted flowers, it is still very present. We need to cultivate our communities, families, and most importantly: our little, big fighters.

“You have to start by changing the dialogue about addressing disparities. To do that you need to take a systematic look at disparities throughout the organization.” –Romana Hasnain-Wynia, PhD

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Check out the Finding Answers site, which is just one example of an organization that was created over a decade ago to administer grants for programs that evaluate interventions to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Even though we are right to feel disappointed with our nation’s chronic racial and ethnic disparities, this should lead us to intentional action rather than despair.

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Meredith Merkley

More about Meredith Merkley

Meredith Merkley was born in the mountains of Colorado, but moved to Ohio, New Mexico and then Arizona. She has a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. Afterwards, she packed her bags again and moved to Ohio where she graduated as a D.O. from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently completing her second year of pediatric residency.