By Meshie Knight
Program & Development Associate
In 2012 I was chosen to participate in the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows Program (HLFP). The 10-month long initiative is designed to develop and support a diverse group of professionals to champion needed change on an organizational, community, and statewide level to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.
Knowing that promoting change in our complex health care system is challenging, I carefully weighed my decision to apply to the program. Statistics show that racial and ethnic minorities have worse health than whites do, and they often receive a lesser standard of health care. The same is true for people who have limited education or income or who live in poor neighborhoods when compared to those who are better educated or financially better off. None of this is ever absent from my mind. In considering becoming a Health Leadership Fellow, I felt it more urgent than ever to learn as much as I can and do as much as possible to support efforts to eliminate health disparities. With ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, our current health care environment is ripe with opportunities for change. But, we must recognize that while having access to health insurance gets us in the door, it does not level the playing field in terms of outcomes.
Inasmuch as this decision was an endeavor of my professional life, it is also a very personal decision. Solely on account of my being black, for example, I am more likely to die of breast cancer than my white counterpart. In the end, recognizing that my identity as a black woman largely predicts my interactions and experiences with our health care system made for an easy decision to apply.
I am only half way through this 10-month long endeavor, and there have been many lessons so far. Issues related to health and health care are already very sensitive. When you add race, ethnicity, and other perceived and unperceived differences to the mix, there are many more layers of complexity. The fact is, there will always be barriers and challenges to this work. What the Fellowship has given me thus far is the opportunity to channel the emotions that accompany many of these challenges in a constructive way so as to affect change on much more than the individual level. It has given me the language, the skills and the confidence to be an effective leader for systemic change.
Health and health care disparities are complex; interrelated; and costly issues- to our country and state’s bottom line and the very fabric of our society. Seeking true health equity requires us to be brave, to speak up, to listen, to reflect and most importantly, to act. We must take risks, stretch ourselves beyond what we reasonably and comfortably think is our limit so as to get to the place where change happens.
I am proud to have been chosen to be a part of the class of 2014 and I look forward to learning more in the months to come.
Visit the CT Health Foundation website for more information on the Health Leadership Fellows Program. You can see all the 2014 fellows and learn how you can become a fellow. Applications for the class of 2015 are available now and the deadline for applications for the 2015 class is April 1, 2014.