Nine medical students had their eyes opened on a tour of Charlotte neighborhoods, new and old, rich and poor, segregated and diverse. The goal? To open their hearts to the cause of providing first-rate medical care for them all.
“It’s at our own peril that we don’t consider the community we live in,” said Dr. Mark Higdon, associate dean of the new UNC School of Medicine Novant Health Charlotte Campus that’s behind the effort. In challenging these doctors-to-be to appreciate patients for who they are and not what malady they present, he put it this way: “That’s not a diabetic in Room 6. That is Mrs. Jones in Room 6, who has diabetes.”
Med student Daniel Nance of Raleigh is already learning the lesson. “You need to know the people you’re trying to help,” he said. “If you don’t understand where they live, what resources they have, you can’t properly care for them.”
Nance, 25, is among the nine students who form the first class of the geographically separate campus in Charlotte, which was launched as part of a partnership between UNC School of Medicine and Novant Health. Exposing students to the importance of health equity is central to the curriculum. So is diversity and inclusion in the student body. The campus, based at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, plans to grow to around 30 students per class in the next five-plus years. Students in this inaugural class – five women and four men – are in their third year of medical school at UNC Chapel Hill. Two were born at Presbyterian Medical Center.
Get on the bus
The “Black And White Bus Tour” was a highlight of Orientation Week. It’s offered by Community Building Initiative (cbicharlotte.org), a Charlotte nonprofit devoted to building inclusion and equity.
Before boarding the bus, historian Tom Hanchett (HistorySouth.org), provided students with context as to how and why Charlotte became largely segregated. It’s no coincidence, he told them, that the two main hospitals were built in the affluent Myers Park area. Or that many Charlotteans today exist in a bubble – living, working and playing in neighborhoods segregated by race, culture and class. That’s changing in areas like Plaza Midwood, Hanchett said, calling Central Avenue “the most interesting street in Charlotte.”
But in noting there is work to do, Hanchett kicked it off in blunt fashion: “This is not the Chamber of Commerce tour.”
The bus rumbled through uptown to what used to be the Brooklyn neighborhood, a once-thriving Black community bulldozed by “urban renewal.” Students gazed out the window at government buildings and the largely deserted Marshall Park.
Hanchett pointed out Bank of America Stadium, where once stood Good Samaritan Hospital for Black people.
There’s Elmwood Cemetery on West Sixth Street near uptown, where a fence once separated the final resting places of Blacks and whites.
In the Seversville neighborhood off Rozzelles Ferry Road, students saw older, smaller homes beside teardowns that spawned newer, fancier homes. Progress or gentrification?
The bus wound through the Biddleville community and past Johnson C. Smith University. Biddleville is the oldest Black neighborhood in Charlotte, established after the Civil War. JCSU was founded in 1867 to educate formerly enslaved men.
Along Beatties Ford Road, the heart of Charlotte’s Black community, Hanchett pointed out an everyday Food Lion and called it “a big deal.” Grocery chains, he said, don’t often locate in neighborhoods that need them most.
Doctors are standing by.
A highlight came at Brightwalk, a new community of homes and townhomes on Statesville Avenue north of uptown. Here is where rundown Double Oaks apartments once stood. Brightwalk has attracted a racially and economically diverse blend of residents. It’s also where Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic — North End serves patients. When Hanchett pointed out the clinic, everyone on the bus broke into applause.
“What if every neighborhood in our city was like this?” Hanchett asked.
Over two hours, the bus went past uptown’s skyscrapers. Tents under highway overpasses, home to the homeless, 3,000 on any given night in Charlotte. Hanchett pointed out one particular home in the largely Black McCrorey Heights neighborhood off Oaklawn Avenue. It was bombed during the Civil Rights Era. In Plaza Midwood, he pointed out the best international restaurants and what has fast become a landmark, the Thirsty Beaver Saloon on Central Avenue. Last October, Mick Jagger sipped a beer on the patio and no one bothered him.
Afterward students met to discuss the question that Higdon posed at the start of the day: “What kind of doctor do we want to produce?”
The answer, as staff and faculty interjected throughout the tour, is a doctor who knows his or her patients well enough not to prescribe a $500 medication when possible. Who appreciates that to keep an appointment with a specialist, some patients must ride three buses and navigate transfers to get there. Who understands that Mrs. Jones in Room 6, the woman with diabetes, may also be suffering from food and housing insecurity and needs a doctor who knows her entire story.
This is why Korene Gbozah, 23, said she is called to be a doctor, one who wants to address issues around women’s health, teen pregnancy and sex education. She grew up in Charlotte’s Sedgefield community and graduated from Myers Park High School. She’s been to some of the places the tour took her. But she never saw them as a med student who will one day soon take an oath reminding her that “warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drugs.”
“That’s part of the reason I went into medicine, to help with health disparities,” Gbozah said. “I got to see two different worlds today. I think it will help me be a better physician.”
Novant Health launches Innovation Lab
Building on its commitment to innovate and support solutions for some of the health care’s biggest challenges, Novant Health has opened the Novant Health Innovation Lab in partnership with Novant Health Enterprises.
The lab, located in Charlotte, will facilitate engagement opportunities with providers, team members, vendors and community partners to develop solutions that improve both the quality of and access to care. Novant Health providers and team members will be able to pilot and engage with new devices, emerging technologies and programs, providing feedback prior to their deployment in Novant Health facilities.
“The Novant Health Innovation Lab will foster teamwork and collaboration among our team members, allowing us the opportunity to generate solutions to some of health care’s biggest challenges,” said Angela Yochem, Novant Health executive vice president and chief transformation and digital officer as well as chief operating officer and general manager of Novant Health Enterprises. “The inspirational space is dedicated to the future of medical care, allowing for creativity and testing of new ideas from some great thinkers and problem-solvers.”