The NMA is a membership organization of African-American physicians. Our Mission Statement is “To advance the art and science of medicine for people of African descent through education, advocacy and health policy to promote health and wellness, eliminate health disparities and sustain physician viability.”
As I feel the need to center my heart and anchor my brain, I have looked to our Mission for guidance in these troubled times; for the link between it and COVID-19, the novel respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus, and the most pressing health issue that we have faced in at least a decade, if ever for some of us. At first blush, the connection may not be self-evident, but the link to, in fact the relevance of our Mission and COVID-19 is there. Allow me to make the connection clear.
I will begin with:
“To advance the art and science
of medicine for people of African descent…”
The NMA is closely monitoring developments from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) related to COVID-19. This pandemic is stretching the bounds of our ability as a nation, and a member of the global community, to respond appropriately and fully. There is both an artistic and a scientific approach to this situation. We must reach the emotional needs of a public that is understandably panicked, worried and fearful. Facts alone will not soothe the souls of our people. The message needs to reach the heart and the brain, likely in that order. The art of communication and healing is not as easily accessed as the science found on the links at the end of this message. The ability to reach our own communities to convey the healing message related to COVID-19 is the special purview of the NMA and its members.
Let us move onto the next segment of the Mission Statement:
“…through education, advocacy, and health policy”
It is well known, at this point, to the NMA membership that those with a higher risk of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 are those with underlying medical conditions. On a CDC call March 12, 2020, three comorbidities highlighted were COPD, hypertension and diabetes, which elevates the likelihood of death from COVID-19 approximately three and one-half times that of those without underlying medical conditions. You all see the flashing red light as well as I do, the Black community’s higher incidence of these three conditions. Our role as physicians/providers is to educate ourselves, our patients and the broader community, in terms of what to do and how to respond. It is incumbent upon us to advocate for policies, such as universal health care that assures easier and better access for our patients, reducing the disparities in the rates of these conditions adversely affecting our communities. There is $50 billion in emergency aid related to the recent national declaration of a national emergency. We need to be at the table when these monies are distributed.
Our next dissection of our Mission Statement is of the phrase:
“…to promote health and wellness, eliminate health disparities…”
The developing data is demonstrating that overall health and wellness are important factors in the level of virulence that COVID-19 will have on an individual. If one acquires SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease condition COVID-19, one is more likely to have a milder case if you are young and healthy. You cannot turn back the hands of time; immunosenescence is real, but we can all manage and improve our wellness. Clearly, I am not stating that merely maintaining a healthy lifestyle of exercising, eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, getting appropriate sleep and reducing stress will keep one immune from a viral pneumonia, but wellness always better equips one to fight or manage an illness. We need to continue to promote wellness, not just the absence of disease as the true goal of our practice. This gives one a potential leg up in times of a health crisis, such as the one we presently face.
I have previously alluded to health disparities related to comorbidities. There is another level of disparity. Studies are now demonstrating that the social determinates of health (SoDH) is as much a factor in health outcomes as one’s genetics. We, as African-Americans, are more likely to live in crowded housing (or be unhoused), take public transportation, be uninsured, or have varying levels of health literacy (as a start). This all either directly or indirectly can lead to a potentially higher rate of acquisition of, or worse outcomes from COVID-19. Therefore, the ongoing efforts of the NMA to address the SoDH are protective of our community related to this pandemic. What we do counts.
Last, our Mission Statement closes with:
“…and sustain physician viability.”
There is one aspect of physician viability, i.e. ensuring that we can bill and receive proper remuneration, have representation on medical, corporate and hospital boards to advocate for our interests and receiving relevant CME content such as that we received at our annual Convention and Scientific Assembly. This, in and of itself, places us in a better position to manage our roles in facing this pandemic. I will however direct you to the present status of the pandemic and how it affects us as health care providers and physician viability more directly. This is a distinctly different wrinkle of COVID-19, a more personal aspect of our role in physician viability and COVID-19. We as health care professionals, find ourselves on the front lines, at the tip of the spear. Note that in China, deaths of medical workers involved in treating COVID-19 have been reported; a doctor in Wuhan, in a phone interview, stated that 12 out of 59 doctors in his hospital were showing symptoms of the virus, including lung infections, but continued to treat patients while wearing inadequate protective gear. I make this point to say that it may actually take COURAGE to treat our community against COVID-19. I will note that Black doctors and COURAGE have often been used in the same sentence. Here it is again, if not with a different spin. We are being called upon to do that which we are trained to do and indeed have taken an oath to do. I will quote one paragraph in the Oath of Imhotep (our other oath), of which I was privileged to administer to those physicians present at my installation on July 30, 2019 in Honolulu. “I shall recognize that this position of service implies great responsibility to my patients, colleagues, society and myself;” great responsibility indeed. Imhotep wrote these words over 3,000 years ago. The insight of our Egyptian Father of Medicine is ours to model.
We will get through this. We, as a people, have gotten through worse. We accomplished this by a singular focus on a common goal; the goal this time is survival through a pandemic. This will be accomplished by wisdom, attitude, strength and persistence, characteristics we all have. This is our charge.
As of the writing of this Message, regarding COVID-19 in the US:
Total cases: 1,629
Total deaths: 41
Jurisdictions/states reporting cases: 47 (46 states and District of Columbia)
National state of emergency declared March 13, 2020
142,539 confirmed (9769 new)
5,393 deaths (438 new)
The NMA recommends that you keep abreast of the latest developments by accessing the best clinical, epidemiologic and governmental sources of information. Resourceful websites include:
WHO – World Health Organization:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
John Hopkins University – website that tracks COVID-19:
Your local and state public health departments are excellent sources of information relevant to your geographic area.
We find ourselves eternally relevant. Ensure that you remain relevant by staying connected with OUR NMA! We are only as strong as our members—YOU.