Gail Christopher, DN

How race is connected to chronic disease


Experiencing the undeniable reality of racial health disparities in her own life, Dr. Gail Christopher has dedicated her career to fixing the cultural inequalities that exist in the current healthcare system.

The Interview

I’m Gail Christopher. As a child growing up, I fell in love with acting and theatre and I decided that I wanted to become an actress. I went off to college to major in theatre and I was excited about that. I went to a college in New York and I ran into a wall of racism and it really turned me around. It didn’t seem like being an actress was the way to go anymore. When I met this alternative health practitioner, the lights all came on for me. I realized if I wanted to be a doctor, that was the kind of doctor I wanted to be. When my first-born died at three months of age, the concept of infant mortality and infant mortality disparities became very real for me. I had had friends when I was growing up who lost children and mothers who had died but I didn’t understand that this was a phenomenon. This was something that people of color experienced a disproportionate burden of.

There was a book written called ‘The Textbook of Black Diseases’. I just had never heard of such a thing and when I began to read the book it was all about those diseases for which communities of color bear a disproportionate burden. These were the chronic diseases. These were diabetes and heart disease and arthritis. It was very natural for me to connect those dots to the barriers to opportunity and the exposures to discrimination that people of color experience.

Ironically during that era, there were no third party payments for that kind of service. So as my career evolved over the years, I realized it had to move from clinical practice, to designing social and educational programs, to influencing public policy and now, at this stage, to being in philanthropy, which funds these community activists and advocates who are also trying to change policies and systems. Buckminister Fuller said that fighting against old models is not the way to bring about change. We must create new models that make the old models obsolete. I believe that this is the new model of care. The more invasive interventions that are so fraught with side-effects and things that are not good for health. Those models will become obsolete in the face of these new models, and that gives me a great deal of hope.

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