CCHS alumni work to reduce health disparities in minority and rural communities

May 1, 2023

April is National Minority Health Month and the College of Community Health Sciences celebrated with a panel discussion presented by College alumni and titled “Better Health Through Better Understanding: Women’s Health and Health Literacy.”

The panelists, all graduates of The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency Program, which CCHS operates, were: Dr. Arnelya Cade-Chapman, who practices at Cahaba Medical Care in Woodstock, Ala.; Dr. Carmen Collins, who practices at Cahaba Medical Care Foundation in Bessemer, Ala.; Dr. Alexis Mason, who practices at Rogersville Family Care in Rogersville, Ala.; and Dr. Remona Peterson, who practices at We Care Family Practice Clinic in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The four physicians said their interest in medicine began when they were young and had to deal with illnesses, accidents and watching a sick family member pass away. The panelists agreed that their respective journeys to become doctors helped them understand the importance of health education to better care for their patients.

“I have noticed in practicing in rural areas and throughout my training that interactions with patients, especially minority patients, that they don’t really understand the conditions that they have,” said Cade-Chapman. “The one thing I do in my practice is try to educate my patients about the conditions they have, make sure they truly understand why they are taking the medications to improve their health, and teach them things they can do outside of the clinic to better take care of their health.”

Many of the challenges discussed by the panelists included the lack of access to care in rural communities, the confusion of certain screenings and procedures, the cost of treatment and the distrust of the healthcare system. “Some of it is that the patients do not feel they are comfortable enough with whomever that they see,” Mason explained. “We need to be a part of the solution to helping patients, especially women, feel comfortable to talk about their issues.”

Collins said many of her patients don’t get or aren’t able to get routine health screenings, especially her younger patients and her female patients. “I also see under-diagnosed depression, especially in our minority patients. One of the benefits of working at my clinic is that we offer behavioral health services and recommend counseling.”

“Access is also a big thing that we really need to look for,” Peterson said. “Most of the time, patients do not have the transportation to get to their preventive exam screenings. Other times, the fear of going and knowing can interfere with getting that care. Sometimes as physicians we get busy and do not have time for the discussions, but I think having conversations about certain procedures and providing health education can ease patients’ stress.”

National Minority Health Month, operated by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is celebrated every year in April to build awareness about the disproportionate burden of premature death and illness in people from racial and ethnic minority groups and to encourage action through health education, early detection and control of disease complications.