Campus News

Surgery launches anti-racism, health care equity initiative with West lecture

Cornel West.

The Department of Surgery is launching its anti-racism and health care equity initiative with a Zoom lecture by bestselling author and political activist Cornel West on Feb. 18.

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published February 5, 2021

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headshot of Steven D. Schwaitzberg.
“Creating an annual endowed lectureship, paired with a slate of robust new initiatives, is a demonstration of our long-term commitment. This is our collective responsibility as physicians and surgeons in the 21st century. I have every confidence that, working together, we can create real and lasting change. ”
Steven D. Schwaitzberg, professor and chair
Department of Surgery

An anti-racism and health care equity initiative designed to address and mitigate the effects of systemic racism and inequality in health care has been launched by the Department of Surgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

Cornel West, Harvard University professor, bestselling author, political activist and public intellectual, will speak via Zoom at “Beyond the Knife,” the initiative’s first public event, from 4-5 p.m. on Feb. 18.

This event is free and open to the public. Register and submit questions for the question-and-answer session online.

The virtual conference represents the first of what will be an annual lecture series, initially funded by UBMD Surgery, focused on social justice and health care inequity

Henry Louis Taylor.

Henry Louis Taylor, professor of urban planning in the School of Architecture and Planning, will be on the panel.

As part of the kickoff, Mehmet Oz, professor of surgery and television talk show host, recorded this promotional video. A panel discussion featuring Jacobs School students, medical residents and faculty, who also are members of UBMD Surgery, will follow the lecture. Additional information is available on the Department of Surgery website.

“The UB Department of Surgery is committed to sustained action toward a more diverse and equitable world,” says Steven D. Schwaitzberg, professor and chair of surgery and president of UBMD Surgery. “Inviting Dr. West — the preeminent voice on this topic for 40 years — is a demonstration of the seriousness with which we approach this task. Creating an annual endowed lectureship, paired with a slate of robust new initiatives, is a demonstration of our long-term commitment. This is our collective responsibility as physicians and surgeons in the 21st century. I have every confidence that, working together, we can create real and lasting change.”

Karole Collier.

Karole Collier, a fourth-year student in the Jacobs School, will be on the panel.

James “Butch” Rosser Jr., a renowned general surgeon and author, will serve as master of ceremonies and moderate the question-and-answer session. Rosser, an activist and thought leader on racial dynamics in medicine, is working with the Department of Surgery to launch this effort.

“We, as health care professionals, must not bury our heads in the sand in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death,” Rosser says. “The public must know that we are one of them and we are ready to do our part. This is urgent work: to address the monumental issues before us and map out specific actions to move the national conversation forward.”

Schwaitzberg adds that COVID-19 has stretched the health care system to the brink while illuminating entrenched inequities that determine health status on the basis of neighborhood and skin color.

“With African Americans and Hispanics suffering and dying of COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate, and given the underrepresentation of people of color in surgery, this initiative seeks to comprehensively address these issues and mitigate the effects of systemic racism and inequality in our own community and beyond,” he says. 

“Our department prides itself on its expert faculty, working every day to provide the best in patient care and cultivate today’s residents into future leaders in surgery,” he continues. “We aim to bring surgery to a new level. Every aspect of our mission — patient care, research and education — must be grounded in an understanding of health care disparities and the effects of institutional racism.

“We call on all medical schools to determine their strategy and contribution. It is long past time for all departments of surgery to reflect on what measures need to be taken and to get to work.”

Schwaitzberg says the department’s programmatic response to racism and health care inequity is already underway and includes:

  • Establishment of a new research opportunity this summer for underrepresented medical students interested in surgery.
  • Development of a new curriculum for surgical trainees focusing on the effects of racism and implicit bias. This new curricular emphasis seeks to place operative/clinical discussions within the larger matrix of social inequality.   
  • Establishment of a mentorship program to allow underrepresented future surgeons increased opportunities to work closely with established local surgeons in the operating room.
  • A virtual learning mentorship program, currently underway, that is working to spark the imaginations of high school students in Western New York and recruit them into STEM and medical careers.
  • Establishment of meaningful partnerships with residents and organizations of the neighborhoods where UB’s affiliate hospitals are located: Buffalo’s Fruit Belt and the Delavan-Grider community. 
  • Development of a pilot elective rotation for medical students focused on health disparities for surgical trainees.

More information about the Department of Surgery’s diversity and inclusion initiative is available online.