By Sheri Rickman-Patrick, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
I have been pondering the best way to acknowledge National Minority Health Month. Some may write about those disorders that are most prevalent in certain ethnic groups, such as high blood pressure for Blacks/African Americans or diabetes for Latinos. However, research is showing us that it is not how a person looks or the color of their skin that determines their health outcome. Rather, often it is their social determinants of health — in other words, a person’s socioeconomic status and where they live.
For instance, the residents of Flint, Michigan — who are predominately African American — were exposed to very high levels of lead in their water, and many contracted Legionnaires disease, when the city’s water source was changed. Those residents are now dealing with infertility issues, fetal deaths or low birthweights, along with increased mental health issues. Due to many families’ low socioeconomic status, they are unable to move from the area. Similarly, in East Palestine, Ohio, some may have been exposed to toxic chemicals due to the recent train derailment. What are the long-term health effects for those residents who are unable to move away?
These and other social determinants of health affect health equity. That is why I am stressing and advising everyone, but especially a person of color, that you need to choose a primary care provider, whether it is a physician, nurse practitioner (NP) or PA. It’s important!
It’s very important to have your blood pressure taken, be screened for hypertension, diabetes and thyroid disease; ensure your electrolytes such as potassium and sodium are normal; and have liver and kidney function tests. Your health care provider also needs to check your good and bad cholesterol, along with triglycerides, to make sure your heart is healthy. Pap tests should be done every three to five years to screen for cervical cancer and a mammogram every one to two years for breast cancer. Colonoscopies and stool tests screening for colon cancer are also important as we age, as are prostate-specific antigen lab tests that screen for prostate cancer. Check with your provider to learn when these are recommended specific to your individual health and age.
Again, you may ask: “Why? I can just go to the emergency room if needed.” The emergency room is for those patients experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, stroke symptoms or excessive bleeding — not for coughing, tummy aches or chronic joint pain. Your primary care provider should and will order screening tests for their patients. However, I believe it’s important for you to be aware of these routine screenings, so you can ask the right questions and ensure we providers are doing our jobs — and you receive the care your need and deserve. As a nurse and an NP, I was trained — and take it seriously — to advocate for my patients. However, I also believe it’s important that all patients, no matter their race or ethnicity, have the knowledge to advocate for themselves — a very important message for National Minority Health Month.