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Putterman Lecture examines building alliances and sharing power for health equity

By Janjay Innis

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

September 27, 2022

The annual Steven L. Putterman Memorial Lecture was presented by Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, chief health equity officer and senior vice president for the American Medical Association (AMA), on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH

Dr. Maybank spoke about the importance of building alliances and sharing power for health equity and racial justice.

“Important to doing this work is ensuring that we have a shared analysis to build upon so that we can have conversations that help support planning, actions and accountability as we move down the line,” Maybank said.  

She said accomplishing this work requires a deepened awareness of terms related to health equity, racism and justice; an understanding of the importance of building alliances and sharing power with historically marginalized physicians and other stakeholders; and identifying specific actions organized medicine can take to help dismantle systemic racism and advance solidarity amongst community partners and health care.

She noted that while diversity and inclusion are about identities and feeling a sense of belonging, equity is where the real work lies and is the foundation for alliance building.

“You’re not fully talking about equity if you're not talking about power,” she said. “If we don't have conversations around power and talk about how it’s going to be redistributed, then we’re not getting to the understanding around equity and changes that really advance equity.”

During her discussion of how laws, systems and policies as structures hinder equity, Maybank suggested that the focus on health outcomes within medicine be balanced with the process of the programs in institutions.  

For Maybank, the work of achieving health equity takes strategy. At the AMA, Maybank took the lead on the creation and launch of the health equity strategic plan.

“Such strategic approaches allow the development of language and analysis that pushes health care, changes individuals and the collective, and fosters organizational change as well as health equity or equity infrastructure within an institution and drives change to the point of accountability and sustainability,” she said.

The Putterman Lecture was created as a tribute to Steven L. Putterman, MD, who believed passionately in the right to quality health care for all.   

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Annual lecture at UMass Chan addresses racism in health care; calls for commitment to dismantle it