In the healthcare sector, diversity is more than a goal; it’s a necessity for delivering culturally competent care and improving patient outcomes.
A recent survey by Medscape illustrated that diversity among healthcare providers matters a great deal. Among the people of color who were surveyed, Black patients who had at least half their visits with a provider of their race or ethnicity were more likely to report better experiences, such as their doctor explaining things “in a way they could understand” or asking them about health factors like their employment, housing, and access to food and transportation. In contrast, they reported not having similar discussions about social determinants of health with white providers.
At the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation (JBRF), we understand that philanthropy plays a critical role in shaping a healthcare workforce that is diverse, culturally competent, and reflective of the communities it serves. This is especially crucial in addressing disparities like the elevated cancer mortality rates among Black women in Washington D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8, East of the River.
The Imperative for Philanthropic Intervention
Our commitment at JBRF to intervene in healthcare workforce development stems from a clear understanding of the need for culturally competent care. This type of care, which is sensitive to the cultural and linguistic needs of patients, has been shown to significantly improve healthcare outcomes. For communities like those living EotR in Washington D.C., where health care disparities are profound, the role of philanthropy in fostering a diverse workforce is even more critical. Major and focused investment — the likes of which can only come from dedicated philanthropic funding — is needed to shift systems. Our affiliation with major regional and national healthcare providers, such as Sibley Memorial Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine, enhances our ability to support and guide women of color into health care–based careers.
Combating Implicit Biases and Social Inequities
To create diverse healthcare opportunities, we must first confront the challenges that the community faces, such as implicit biases and systemic racism. This approach also involves addressing social determinants of health to create equitable opportunities. Our strategies encompass a range of interventions, from changing employer practices and policies to providing foundational anti–Black racism and diversity training. These efforts aim to facilitate supportive work environments where Black women feel welcomed, can be authentic, and experience upward economic mobility.
Our foundation’s commitment to intentional investment was brought to life through a strategic initiative called Black Women Thriving East of the River. What started out as an initiative has blossomed into a standalone organization that is ready to implement solutions that the Patient Navigation and Workforce Development Workgroups devised.
“The initiative gave us a very important approach, which is to listen to the needs directly from the actors in the community. That is the most important thing. It’s not the organization or the hospital or the health care facilities to impose to the community what they need. Instead, we go directly to the community and we listen directly from the specific patients, caretakers, providers, what are the real needs? We can discuss with them how we can overcome those barriers, how we can provide better services to the community affected by cancer, or caretakers who don’t know what they can do. And of course, listening directly to the community is, in my opinion, the best approach we can take. “
– Claudia Campos, Chief Program Officer, Nueva Vida; BWTEotR member
Through funding Black Women Thriving East of the River, we aim to fund interventions that can bolster economic mobility and healthcare for Black women living East of the Anacostia River. Below are some initiatives that we have collectively identified as priorities. However, we cannot do it alone. We need partners in philanthropy to join us in realizing our goal to see Black women thrive.
Strategic Workforce Development Initiatives
Black Women Thriving’s Workforce Development Workgroup interventions are centered on two primary areas that were derived from a thorough root cause analysis of the barriers Black women face in entering and remaining in health-related careers: 1) the workforce development training program and delivery system and 2) the solutions designed to address employer practices, wages, and benefits. These initiatives have been meticulously crafted to meet the unique needs of Black women in the healthcare sector.
Empowering Through Educational Support
A pivotal aspect of our strategy is the scholarship program, which provides substantial financial support to Black women in Wards 7 and 8 who are pursuing careers in health-related fields. Given the high barriers to entry in health care, this fund is crucial in supporting workforce and professional development, as well as participation in advanced degree programs.
Youth Engagement and Professional Development
We believe in the importance of beginning workforce development early. Black Women Thriving, the aim is to undertake a strategy that provides youth and young professionals with clear pathways to successful healthcare careers. This intervention will begin by developing an understanding of the current landscape of these programs in D.C. and look to augment existing health science career programs in middle and high schools in D.C. This includes building out the school-to-career-placement pipeline (through summer youth employment, apprenticeships with health care employers in D.C.), increasing parents’ awareness of existing programs, and implementing other strategies to increase enrollment. The collective goal remains to bolster opportunities for young people and set them on a trajectory toward health-related fields.
Data-Driven Approaches and Research
As we update the data infrastructure, we hope that it will allow our work to be informed by thorough research and data coordination. We will monitor the equity in workforce training, placement, and retention of Black women living EotR and utilize this information to tailor our interventions and foster greater system engagement. This approach will allow us to identify trends, inform future strategies, and ensure our initiatives are both effective and responsive to the needs of the community.
Comprehensive Community Support
Beyond educational and professional development, the interventions we aim to fund include comprehensive community support: mentorship in both academic and healthcare settings, paid internships, and wraparound services for residents pursuing health-related careers. We recognize that supporting individuals in their educational journey is just one piece of the puzzle; providing ongoing support and guidance is equally crucial in ensuring their success and fostering a diverse health care workforce.
Advocacy and Policy Engagement
In the future, we plan to extend our efforts to advocacy and policy engagement, with the aim to increase the number of Black health professionals trained, recruited, and hired in D.C. We work closely with local governments, health care providers, and educational institutions to shift policies and practices toward greater inclusivity and representation in the health care sector. This holistic approach ensures that our interventions address not just the symptoms but the root causes of the lack of diversity in health care.
As a philanthropic organization, JBRF recognizes the power we hold to elevate the voices of community members with lived experiences to enact large-scale change. We call upon other organizations to join us in this critical mission. By centering the community in our philanthropic efforts, we can collectively create a diverse, equitable, and effective health care workforce that truly reflects and serves the needs of all.