Morehouse Medicine Leader Sees Challenges, Promise in Pursuing Health Equity

By Amy Widner

Rice said both Morehouse and UAMS have vital roles to play in addressing health equity as a means of improving health care as a whole — in Arkansas, Georgia and beyond.

Rice visited UAMS June 21-22 to give advice, but also to engage in dialogue. She gave lectures, met one-on-one with leadership and held a discussion roundtable with city and state leadership.

As part of the visit, Rice gave two visiting distinguished lectures. During “The Blueprint to Health Equity,” Rice said that older models focused on equality, which means giving everyone the same thing. Newer approaches recognize that not everyone starts with the same resources.

Instead, equity should be the goal, Rice said. Equity treats people as individuals.

“Equity gives them what they need, when they need it, and in the amount they need to reach their optimal level of health, based on all the circumstances that they bring to the table,” Rice said. “Many times, those circumstances are not within that individual’s control.”

At Morehouse School of Medicine — a historically black medical college in Atlanta, Georgia, which was founded in 1975 — Rice said they have made health equity part of their strategic vision. When they talk about translating scientific discoveries, building bridges and preparing future health care leaders, health equity is always part of the equation, she said.

Medical schools like Morehouse and UAMS can serve as health equity leaders, Rice said. For example, when it comes to preparing future leaders, Morehouse uses a strategic plan to target young people from rural areas in Georgia, inspire them to pursue medical careers, and mentor them through the process. This technique takes advantage of the fact that people who are from the rural South are more likely than others to return to the rural South to practice health care when they finish their education.

“It’s important because we need to deliver on the promise of science,” Rice said. “Science is making miracles every day. We create opportunities for life, we improve quality of life, and we extend life. That’s what science does, and everyone ought to have the opportunity for that. That promise should not be affected by your gender, your identity, your race, your ethnicity, your orientation or your ZIP code. Our goal is equity, but our real goal is liberation.”

Rice is the first woman to lead the freestanding medical institution, which began as part of Morehouse College before becoming independent in 1981. She is the founding director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at Meharry Medical College. She is a renowned infertility specialist and researcher. Among her recent honors, she was named to the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans and received the 2017 Horatio Alger Award. Rice has been named to the 100 Most Influential Georgians three years in a row.

During her visit to UAMS, Rice met with UAMS College of Medicine Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean Christopher T. Westfall, M.D.; Provost and Chief Strategy Officer Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed. D.; Interim Senior Vice Chancellor for Clinical Programs and Interim UAMS Medical Center CEO Stephen A. Mette, M.D.; Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Brian Gittens, Ed.D.; and many others.

The roundtable discussion was moderated by Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D., a professor in the UAMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and attended by members of the Arkansas Medical, Dental & Pharmaceutical Association, Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, Arkansas Minority Health Commission and representatives of the Arkansas Department of Health and the city of Little Rock Mayor’s Office.