As Black History Month comes to a close, we are sharing a Q&A with Jason Williams, MD. Dr. Williams is a Cardiothoracic Imaging Specialist and Pediatric Cardiologist at Duke Children’s in Durham, NC, and has shared his thoughts on the importance of diverse representation in medicine, how he is addressing health equity through his work with the congenital heart disease (CHD) community, and more.
What drew you to the field of CHD during your training, and how did you know this was a specialty you wanted to be a part of?
Cardiology was my very first clinical rotation in medical school. It’s a bit unconventional to learn about single ventricle palliation before bronchiolitis in children, but that was my path. I remained open to other specialties, but ultimately came back to congenital cardiology. I liked the complex heart physiology, as well as all aspects of imaging.
The patients I encountered were also very resilient. One of the biggest draws to cardiology for me was the ability to be both a diagnostician and also manage patients based on the imaging findings. I have been able to combine multiple passions into one specialty.
How important is it to increase diversity in the CHD field, and why? How have you and your colleagues played a part or addressed this?
It is very important to increase diversity in medicine, as we owe it to our patients to reflect them. The evidence shows that healthcare is better when it’s diverse. I think diversity in healthcare is also justice, as there is a long history of health disparity and health inequity in medicine. In addition, there is a history of mistrust between medicine and the vulnerable patients that we took oaths to serve. Black physicians, specifically, were also historically-excluded from practice.
There is a paucity of underrepresented in medicine (URiM) physicians in congenital cardiology, even more pronounced in the ACHD ranks. I am relatively young in my career, but I’ve always made it a point to mentor those who are URiM in many forums as I’m able, especially those who are interested in cardiology. It is impossible to navigate medicine alone, and sometimes it’s helpful to have someone with a shared experience help that process.
How do you address health equity through your work with the CHD community and patient base? What can be done moving forward?
I have been involved in health equity research and finding ways to address how we deliver care and also address social determinants of health. In practice, I try to empower patients with the knowledge to help them be great advocates for themselves in the healthcare system that can be intimidating, especially as they approach care transition. I think clinicians should address every decision in healthcare with an “equity lens” to make sure it remains at the forefront such that when policies and protocols are made, everyone is at the table. It can’t just the work of a few, it has to be priority for all.