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A new approach to urban health

Attacking surrounding area health gaps

 A son of Camden returned Tuesday to call on students of the city's new medical school to attack the racial, socio-economic, and cultural health gaps that surround them.

The message-bearer, George C. Hill, only recently retired as a medical professor and researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he was responsible for promoting diversity.

In a lecture at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Hill said the school must work to address the health disparities that persist throughout communities like Camden.

"There must be two New Jerseys," Hill said, pointing to numbers such as the 13.7 percent of non-Hispanic blacks with diabetes, compared with 7.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites. "You can tell your patient, 'Get 30 minutes of exercise every day and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.' That might be easy if you live in Haddonfield, but it's not easy if you're in Parkside," a Camden neighborhood.

Referring to a series of PowerPoint slides comparing health statistics in Burlington, Gloucester, and Camden Counties, the Rutgers-Camden alumnus pointed out the sometimes large disparities seen in Camden County in particular.

The solution, he said, is less easily defined and requires a multidisciplinary approach.

Students should consider patients as individuals instead of as groups, learn to be comfortable with patients of different cultures, and, he said, be aware of their own biases and recognize disparities.

The medical school shares responsibility for addressing health gaps, Hill said. A board member of the newly opened school, Hill praised Cooper for its programs aimed at developing the medical interests of local college and high school students.

"Racism still exists," he said. "To decrease these disparities, you need to increase the diversity of the workforce."

More can be done, he said in an interview after the "grand rounds" lecture. The school has shown a willingness to look beyond grades and admission test scores, Hill said, and can take a holistic view in considering applicants.

"One type of trained physician would say, 'Why is that? Is there some difference in terms of the biologies of the disease in this population?' " Hill said, referring to diseases such as liver cancer that affect racial groups differently. "Another type of physician might be saying, 'Oh, we need to make sure we get these different populations into the clinic so we can diagnose them properly.' "

The latter is the type of physician Cooper should seek to develop, he said.

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