It’s a sobering thought: that your chances of surviving cancer might depend on your race.
Yet that’s the reality for many African-American women with endometrial cancer. Black women have a 55-percent higher mortality rate after diagnosis than other groups of women. And understanding why means asking some hard questions about health equity.
“It’s fascinating how much history you learn in medical school,” says Kemi Doll, M.D., MSCR, UW assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. But that history generally doesn’t include the legacy of institutional racism and its effects on patient care — and without that context, Doll argues, it’s hard for doctors to address health equity.
“We don’t learn the ways in which medicine has had all of these wrong ideas about race, and therefore we’re not able to develop that kind of questioning muscle in ourselves — and without that, you don’t get creative about solutions,” she says.
Doll knew from a young age that she wanted to be a doctor, but it wasn’t until her residency at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine that she decided to specialize in gynecologic oncology.
“I loved connecting to the patients, the intensity of the relationships. Gynecological cancer is about the woman’s entire relationship with her reproductive life,” says Doll. “I couldn’t imagine anything else that would be as rewarding and nourishing to my spirit.”