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“I can’t breathe.”

By now, we’ve all listened to those words.

By now, we’ve all heard the story of the 43-year-old father from New York who was slammed into the ground, put into an illegal chokehold and ignored while screaming for mercy.

By now, we’ve all realized that this conversation is much greater than the sum of its parts — more heartbreaking in its breadth than the tragic stories of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and the so many others like them alone. This conversation is about race, about inequity, about the systems and the cycles that have for too long fostered and harbored a culture of violence, poverty, and hate.

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014 — on the United Nations’ (UN) International Human Rights Day — over 70 medical schools from across the United States observed “die-ins” to call on medical institutions across the globe to respond to violence and race-related trauma by addressing racism and racial discrimination as issues of public health.

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But how does race affect public health? Here are three points we should be talking about:

1. Racial discrimination can have life-long health effects.

In 2012, researchers reviewed 121 studies regarding the role of racial discrimination on childhood/adolescent health and found startling results: With over 76 percent showing strong associations between racial discrimination and negative consequences on mental health, it was no surprise to see that discrimination can serve as chronic social-environmental stressor having a significant effect on both physiological symptoms and overall health. The meta-analysis showed that childhood experiences during which one was treated disrespectfully or made to feel inferior or unintelligent were correlated with future problems with behavior, overall health, and pregnancy outcomes. Furthermore, other reports have indicated racial discrimination also has a negative effect on several health indicators, including patients’ ability to utilize existing resources, patient-provider communication, and delays in filling prescriptions.

2. African-American patients have significantly worse health outcomes.

#WhiteCoats4BlackLives: 3 Things We Need to Talk About  was originally published on

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