Op-EdOpinion

FAIR: Healthy Girls Make a Healthy World

I grew up in a closely knit family that was deeply involved in a church located in Detroit, Michigan. Because my uncle was the pastor, and my parents were ministers, we spent a lot of time in church activities. The congregation had a sizeable population plagued with severe diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. As a child, I believed growing old meant that you would inevitably develop one of these diseases and possibly have a leg or foot amputated, which I saw frequently. I even wanted to play with wheelchairs or crutches to “practice” growing old. It wasn’t until high school, when I developed an interest in science, that I began to realize the illnesses I witnessed growing up were not prevalent in everyone’s family. In fact, my family and the members of my church were a living example of the health disparities between White and African-American communities in the United States.

This realization not only inspired me to pursue a career in medicine and public health, but to also choose to focus on work with medically underserved populations and better understand the various influences on health, such as income, education or ethnic background. As a young woman of color, my path to earning a medical degree and a master’s in public health wasn’t always an easy one, but I knew that it was tied to my purpose. And though I was but one, I could make a difference in the lives of many, particularly girls and women who looked like me. That was my charge.

As the world recognizes Oct. 11 as International Day of the Girl Child, an occasion created by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world, my charge to the D.C. community is to promote health equity for girls and actively encourage them to pursue careers in health. Just as it has been said that strong girls make a strong world, I also believe that healthy girls make a healthy world. Girls and women are essential to the vitality of our communities and when we succeed, we all succeed. Our health matters as does our representation in health care careers and voices in shaping the policies that affect us and our families.

This month, I will step away from my office and before I see patients at the hospital, I’ll be spending some time with a group of girls from a middle school in Ward 7. My hope is that we’ll have a good conversation about health issues facing our community and how they can be part of the solutions.

The next time you speak with a young girl, I encourage you to have a similar dialogue. That discussion could lead her to improving her life and all of ours too. She could be a doctor, nurse, dentist or other health professional someday. One who could make a difference in the lives of many.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has a number of programs and initiatives to help increase diversity in medical education and to advance health care equity. Learn more about our programs by visiting aamc.org/students.

Fair is senior director of health equity partnerships and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C.

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