Narrowing the Gap: Providing Cancer Care for All Drives Dr. Edith Mitchell’s Work
Edith Mitchell, MD, sums up the saga of healthcare disparities in the U.S. with a history lesson: “When the slaves arrived in Virginia in 1620, many were ill and many had died onboard the ships. At that time there were definite disparities in healthcare provided to the slaves. Here we are more than 400 years later, and there are still disparities in healthcare existing among the Black population.”
She adds that those disparities have also affected other minorities as they have immigrated to this country—including Hispanic and Asian people—as well as those who were already here—such as Native Americans and Alaskan and Hawaiian populations.
Mitchell, clinical professor of medicine and medical oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, directs the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. She attributes the disparities in cancer care to a number of factors, including genetics; culture; limited availability of healthy food; no geographic access to healthcare; low income; insufficient or no insurance; lack of Black physicians; and bias toward minorities.
The socioeconomic determinants of health are many—and they are being addressed on the local, state, and national level. She calls Jefferson “a shining star” in those efforts.
“Jefferson has some of the top leaders in healthcare policy in the country,” says Mitchell, who serves on the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel, as well as various committees of the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.
“We are developing the programs for medical schools and other healthcare education processes, and are continually working to attract the best and brightest researchers and faculty, and to bring Black and other minority students to Jefferson.”
She notes that although Blacks constitute nearly 13 percent of the United States population, Black doctors account for less than 5 percent of the practicing clinicians in this country. Jefferson offers scholarships to encourage Black and other minority applicants to medical school. The institution also works with the community and local, state, and national government to create policy and programs designed to help narrow the disparity gap.
Mitchell says that key programs in the effort have been the development of Medicare and the expansion of Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act, which have helped minorities get a cancer diagnosis, as well as receive treatment in a more timely manner.
“We have made tremendous improvements in healthcare delivery with resultant decreases in cancer mortality rates, and need to continue to work on those areas,” she says, adding, “We need to make sure that research continues, and we have the latest and the greatest (in care)—as well as the latest and greatest in access and healthcare delivery for all.”