In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we pay tribute to the American civil rights leader, and reflect on the impact of his mission to achieve equality for Black Americans in the United States.
Health companies have a responsibility to support a system that advances health equity, which we define as everyone having a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for health equity action resonates with many health professionals and continues to influence their work. We asked three of our medical experts to reflect on the impact of Dr. King’s legacy:
Jannifer D. Harper, MD
David Pryor, MD, MPH
Diane Moseberry, MD
Describe the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. on your career path.
David: Martin Luther King Jr. displayed, in the most profound way, a servant’s heart. I decided to become a doctor because I wanted to serve and to help people live healthier lives.
Jannifer: Dr. King’s vision and belief that we can achieve anything was a significant motivator for me becoming a physician. No one in my family had graduated from college, let alone medical school.
Diane: Martin L. King Jr. is the prototype of how a commitment to following your heart and what you know is the right thing to do can have an unfathomable impact on the world. Dr. King’s work motivates me to be my best every day in what I do.
Based on your experience, how has Dr. King’s work impacted the field of healthcare?
David: Dr. King understood the concept of “health-related social needs” a long time ago. He highlighted and addressed issues like housing, jobs, discrimination and bias, unfair policies—and how these issues can prevent men and women from achieving their full potential.
Diane: President Johnson passed a large amount of civil rights legislation because of Dr. King. Working with President Johnson, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that required the desegregation of the hospitals in order to participate in Medicare, showed how quickly government intervention can overturn racist constructs.
Share your thoughts on the importance of equity in healthcare.
Jannifer: Equity is critical in improving outcomes for all communities, but specifically in communities of color. Equity cannot be achieved when health-related social needs, access, and racism are not addressed.
Diane: Equity in healthcare that would prevent much of the chronic disease in communities of color has been shown to have a positive impact on healthcare savings.
When considering the next steps we must take toward equity in health and beyond, in your opinion, where do we go from here?
David: We still have a lot of work to do. We need to ensure that our healthcare system has the right incentives in place to close the equity gap. We need to invest in communities, in schools, in safety. We need to provide hope and a reason to live for all of our citizens.
Jannifer: We must develop substantive partnerships with all stakeholders including providers, government, community leaders, educators, and researchers to create interventions to address root causes of inequity, like food, housing and financial insecurity, and other drivers of health.