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USA: African American twin doctors fight racism in healthcare system

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Charles Rex Arbogast/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved


Brittani James and Brandi Jackson are African American elite university-trained doctors from Twinsburg, Ohio united -- beyond their identical twin bond, in their mission to dismantle the deep-rooted structural racism within the United States healthcare system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has let come to the forefront racial issues that have always existed within the medical industry in the country -- laying bare racially-based inequities and disparities in treatment between black women in particular and the white population. 

Dr Brittani James shares her observations working as a doctor of internal medicine.

"I see my patients, I see them go to different hospitals. I see and understand that the standard of care that they get is less than. I see it. It's undeniable.

"We have tremendous, profound, deep racial disparities in health outcomes, and we believe that the system of medicine and the racism that is endemic to it are a large force that create and perpetuate these disparities.

"We are calling for a radical reimagining of how we deliver health care in this country."

The now Dr James and Dr Jackson always got recognition in their hometown as they were brilliant students in the marginalised area where they grew up.

A type of perceived low-income community typically overlooked by the US society at large -- whose children often do not have bright futures forecast ahead of them. 

"It was only my sister and I looking on the internet and finding a list of Ivy League schools and saying, hey, well, nobody really told us to, but it seems like this is where smart people go, so let's let's try it, " recalls psychiatrist Dr Brandi Jackson.

All the hard work of the young girls culminated in earning scholarships to elite and prestigious Ivy League universities for their higher education where they went on to earn medical degrees -- despite being the racial minority in their classes. 

No strangers to bigotry -- in particular racism and sexism, Dr James and Dr Jackson are aware of how their official titles of medical doctors have a certain weight in society. 

"People aren't listening to us without a white coat. And they're definitely not listening to me without a degree," Dr Brittani James to their listeners in a recent podcast, that the sisters host.

The accomplished twin doctors are now using the privilege that their earned positions of established medical professionals affords them to lift up other African-Americans who aspire to work in the health sector. 

"For every two twins like this, there were hundreds and thousands of talented bright Black people who are never given the opportunity to sit where we sit, who at every turn are facing obstacles and barriers," Dr Jackson adds.

Not only have the sisters developed antiracist coursework used in two Chicago medical schools but they co-founded the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine.

Dr Jackson is firm in their chosen mission, "We have an opportunity here to name the ills of medicine and actually do something about it."

The establishment enables doctors to take accredited classes exploring racism in the health sector in exchange for credits in further studies in medicine. 

As well as educate white physicians already practising medicine on the harsh realities and racial nuances -- that are not only ingrained within the medical system, but that they too might unintentionally be perpetuating. 

Their latest achievement? Helping lead a charge against the American Medical Association (AMA) and the influential research journal it publishes after a tweet promoting a podcast hosted by the AMA's flagship medical journal caused controversy.

The problematic tweet read, ''No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health?''

The sisters' Institute for Antiracism in Medicine launched a petition in response -- demanding that the journal diversify its mostly white editorial staff and ensure that medical research relating to race and racism gets published.

The movement has garnered more than 8,800 signatures, so far.

AMA suspended the journals' editor-in-chief and a deputy editor also resigned.

Dr David Ansell, a senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois praised the work that the twin doctors are doing to reform the medical industry in the country.

"Dismantling all of the ways that racism, white supremacism and other forms of exclusion are embedded into all of our institutions, not just the AMA, but our hospitals, our clinics, our medical education and such, that's, that's a big task and is a task that both Dr Jackson and Dr James are up to."

The AMA released this week a comprehensive plan aimed at dismantling structural racism within its own system and the US medical industry at large.

The group's leaders said health inequities highlighted by the pandemic, ongoing police brutality and recent race-based crimes have given the effort a sense of urgency.

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