CHICAGO (WLS) -- U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd District) wants to increase the diversity of healthcare providers, and says that's critical to improving the health of African American women.
The Association of American Medical Colleges reports only 3% of doctors in the U.S. are African-American women.
Megachurch House of Hope on Chicago's Far South Side hosted a discussion on women's health Tuesday, particularly the health of women of color.
"COVID put a bright light on the inequities in healthcare," Kelly said.
Kelly organized the symposium "When Black Women Touch Medicine We Heal the World" and is co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls.
"We've learned from maternal mortality, COVID and different things that people do better when their provider is someone who looks like them, at least understands the reality of their situation," Kelly said.
Some of the issues around improving the health of African American women include better prevention and encouraging more young women of color to go into health care.
"I think HBCUs are a great resource and very dedicated to having their students be as successful as possible," said Dr. Valeria Cohran, associate chair for diversity & inclusion at Lurie Children's Hospital.
Panelists urged those interested in healthcare to find mentors who can offer support and guidance to navigate racism.
"Find as many mentors as you can, be assertive with your mentor, tell them where you are and tell them what your need and have them agree to that," UIC medical student Morinola Shobajo said.
"Now I call it as it is, but back then, you don't have a choice," said Dr. Claudia Fegan, chief medical officer at Cook County Health. "You just hold your head up and be professional and not let them know they have harmed you."
Some attendees are studying to be a part of change. Attendee Leilah Sampson has a rare liver disease. During her treatments and transplant recovery, she wished there were more people of color in her care team. Now, she is a pre-med college student.
"I hope to be that example for other patients to see that there are other patients who have been through and are here with the personal knowledge and the compassion to care for you and to help you care for yourself," Sampson said.
Congresswoman Kelly hopes those participating will share what they heard to inspire self-care and perhaps a new generation of healthcare providers.