Why an HBCU Med School Decided to Put CARES Act Money Into Students’ Pockets

Why an HBCU Med School Decided to Put CARES Act Money Into Students’ Pockets

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Just before students at Meharry Medical College went home for Thanksgiving, Dr. James Hildreth, the school’s president, emailed them a video message that he acknowledged seemed hard to believe. Or at least they had to give it a second listen.

“We’ll gift each of you $10,000 in cash,” he said, looking at the camera. “You heard me right.”

They were told to expect a direct deposit the next day or pick up a check in person. Hildreth, an expert in infectious diseases who helped lead Nashville’s pandemic response, explained that this gift with no strings attached was money from the CARES Act, a major covid-19 relief law passed by Congress in 2020. He asked only that they be “good stewards” of the windfall.

After deep consideration, Meharry’s administration decided to give roughly a third of its CARES Act funding — $10 million — directly to its future doctors, dentists and public health researchers. All told, 956 students received payments.

Meharry’s students had already been heavily involved in the pandemic response, staffing Nashville’s mass covid testing and vaccination sites. But the money isn’t so much surprise compensation for volunteer efforts as it is an investment in a future career — and an assist in overcoming financial hurdles Black students especially face to become medical professionals.

While Black Americans make up roughly 13% of the population, the Association of American Medical Colleges finds Black doctors account for just 5% of the nation’s working physicians — a figure that has grown slowly over more than a century. And studies have found that Black patients often want to be cared for by someone whom they consider culturally competent in acknowledging their heritage, beliefs and values during treatment.

Meharry graduates more Black physicians than almost any other U.S. school. And half of its M.D.s enter the high-demand but lower-paying specialty of primary care.

“We felt that there was no better way to begin distributing these funds than by giving to our students who will soon give so much to our world,” Hildreth said.

Cheers erupted in the library as students clicked the video link.

Andreas Nelson fell silent, he recalled later. He went to his banking app and stared in disbelief. “$10,000 was sitting just in my bank account. It was astonishing,” he said. “I was literally lost for words.”

The Chicago native is finishing a master’s degree in health and science at Meharry with hopes of entering its dental school. The average student loan debt in the program totals more than $280,000. So, undoubtedly, 10 grand won’t make much of a dent in the debt.

But the money in his pocket eases his top concern of making rent each month. Nelson said it feels as though he’s being treated like an adult, allowing him to decide what his greatest needs are in getting through school.

“It’s motivating,” Nelson said. “Because that means they have trust in us to do with this money whatever the cause may be — whether it be student debt, investing or just personal enjoyment.”

Across the board, students at HBCUs rely more on student loans than students at historically white institutions. Roughly 80% take out student loans, according to an analysis by UNCF, formerly known as the United Negro College Fund, and they borrow considerably more.

Meharry was founded a decade after the Civil War to help those who had been enslaved. But the 145-year-old institution has always struggled financially, and so have its students.

The reasons are rooted in the country’s racist past, which has left the institutions with less money potentially available for scholarships than other universities. And students’ families generally have less wealth to tap into since Black households across the country have averaged around $17,000 in net worth — about a tenth of the average for white families.

Meharry’s average student debt is far higher than other area schools of medicine at Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee, representing both private and public institutions.

Virtually all colleges and universities received allotments under the CARES Act, but HBCUs have been much more aggressive about funneling substantial amounts directly to students, who tend to have greater need. More than 20 HBCUs have erased outstanding tuition balances. Some have canceled student fees.

But Meharry, one of the few stand-alone HBCU graduate schools, is a rare case in cutting checks for students.

“These young people are rising to medical school against all odds,” said Lodriguez Murray, who leads public policy and government affairs at UNCF. “Of course, they have to borrow more because people who look like them have less.”

During the pandemic, major philanthropists have taken new interest in supporting the few HBCU medical schools. Michael Bloomberg committed $100 million to four institutions, including Meharry, to help educate more Black doctors.

Students at Meharry can now apply for $100,000 scholarships. The $34 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies is also going toward other kinds of financial support.

The school is now offering, for no additional fee, expensive test-prep services through a Boston-based company, MedSchoolCoach. The service, which entails paying a doctor by the hour to help with studying, can cost thousands of dollars.

While the price is often out of reach for students tight on cash, acing the benchmark exams toward board licensure is key to landing coveted fellowships, qualifying for lucrative specialties or just finishing on time. And Meharry’s four-year completion rate of roughly 70% is below most schools. The most up-to-date national average is around 82%.

For some, Murray said, a $10,000 windfall may make all the difference in whether they cross the finish line and become a doctor who can afford all their medical school debt.

“Many of those students are borrowing a lot of money to complete their dream, and to become relatively high earners in the future,” Murray said. “The fact that these students are largely coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds means that the funds that Meharry turned around and gave to the students are particularly impactful.”

This story is from a partnership that includes Nashville Public Radio and KHN.

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Stress is contagious in relationships

Stress is contagious in relationships

Stress is contagious in relationships – here’s what you can do to support your partner and boost your own health during the holidays and beyond

Relationship stress can hit new highs during the holidays. Aaron Amat/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Rosie Shrout, Purdue University

With the flurry of shopping, spending money and traveling to see family, stress can feel inevitable during the holidays.

You might already know stress can affect your own health, but what you may not realize is that your stress – and how you manage it – is catching. Your stress can spread around, particularly to your loved ones.

As a social-health psychologist, I have developed a model on how partners and their stress influence each other’s psychological and biological health. Through that and my other research, I’ve learned that the quality of intimate relationships is crucial to people’s health.

Here’s just a sample: Relationship stress can alter the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. A study of newlyweds found levels of stress hormones were higher when couples were hostile during a conflict – that is, when they were critical, sarcastic, spoke with an unpleasant tone and used aggravating facial expressions, like eyerolls.

Likewise, in another study, people in hostile relationships had slower wound healing, higher inflammation, higher blood pressure and greater heart rate changes during conflict. Middle-aged and older men had higher blood pressure at times when their wives reported greater stress. And partners who felt they weren’t being cared-for or understood had poorer well-being and higher mortality rates 10 years later when compared with those who felt more cared-for and appreciated by their partners.

“How to deal with holiday stress.”

Conflict and cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that plays a key role in the body’s stress response. Cortisol has a diurnal rhythm, so its levels are usually highest soon after waking and then gradually decline during the day. But chronic stress can lead to unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels upon waking or cortisol not tapering off much by the end of the day. These patterns are associated with an increase in disease development and mortality risks.

My colleagues and I found that conflict altered cortisol levels of couples on the day they had a dispute; people with stressed partners who used negative behaviors during the conflict had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict ended.

These findings suggest that arguing with a partner who is already stressed could have lasting biological health effects for ourselves.

Managing stress

Here are three ways you can reduce the stress in your relationship, during and after the holidays.

First, talk to and validate each other. Tell your partner you understand their feelings. Talk about big and little things before they escalate. Sometimes partners hide problems to protect each other, but this can actually make things worse. Share your feelings, and when your partner shares in return, don’t interrupt. Remember, feeling cared-for and understood by a partner is good for your emotional well-being and promotes healthier cortisol patterns, so being there for each other and listening to each other can have good health effects for both you and your partner.

Next, show your love. Hug each other, hold hands and be kind. This too lowers cortisol and can make you feel happier. One study found that a satisfying relationship can even help improve vaccination response.

Then remind yourself that you’re part of a team. Brainstorm solutions, be each other’s cheerleaders and celebrate the wins together. Couples who unite to tackle stress are healthier and more satisfied with their relationships. Some examples: Make dinner or run errands when your partner is stressed; relax and reminisce together; or try a new restaurant, dance or exercise class together.

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That said, it’s also true that sometimes these steps aren’t enough. Many couples will still need help managing stress and overcoming difficulties. Couples therapy helps partners learn to communicate and resolve conflicts effectively. It’s critical to be proactive and seek help from someone who is trained to deal with ongoing relationship difficulties.

So this holiday season, tell your partner that you’re there for them, preferably while you’re hugging. Take each other’s stress seriously, and no more eyerolls. It’s not so much the stress itself; it’s the way that both of you manage the stress together. Working as an open and honest team is the key ingredient to a healthy and happy relationship, during holiday season and into the new year.The Conversation

Rosie Shrout, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

BLACK TECH FOUNDERS WANT TO CHANGE THE CULTURE OF HEALTH CARE, ONE CLICK AT A TIME

BLACK TECH FOUNDERS WANT TO CHANGE THE CULTURE OF HEALTH CARE, ONE CLICK AT A TIME

When Ashlee Wisdom launched an early version of her health and wellness website, more than 34,000 users — most of them Black — visited the platform in the first two weeks.

“It wasn’t the most fully functioning platform,” recalled Wisdom, 31. “It was not sexy.”

But the launch was successful. Now, more than a year later, Wisdom’s company, Health in Her Hue, connects Black women and other women of color to culturally sensitive doctors, doulas, nurses and therapists nationally.

As more patients seek culturally competent care — the acknowledgment of a patient’s heritage, beliefs and values during treatment — a new wave of Black tech founders like Wisdom want to help. In the same way Uber Eats and Grubhub revolutionized food delivery, Black tech health startups across the United States want to change how people exercise, how they eat and how they communicate with doctors.

Inspired by their own experiences, plus those of their parents and grandparents, Black entrepreneurs are launching startups that aim to close the cultural gap in health care with technology — and create profitable businesses at the same time.

“One of the most exciting growth opportunities across health innovation is to back underrepresented founders building health companies focusing on underserved markets,” said Unity Stoakes, president and co-founder of StartUp Health, a company headquartered in San Francisco that has invested in a number of health companies led by people of color. He said those leaders have “an essential and powerful understanding of how to solve some of the biggest challenges in health care.”

Platforms created by Black founders for Black people and communities of color continue to blossom because those entrepreneurs often see problems and solutions others might miss. Without diverse voices, entire categories and products simply would not exist in critical areas like health care, business experts say.

“We’re really speaking to a need,” said Kevin Dedner, 45, founder of the mental health startup Hurdle. “Mission alone is not enough. You have to solve a problem.”

Dedner’s company, headquartered in Washington, D.C., pairs patients with therapists who “honor culture instead of ignoring it,” he said. He started the company three years ago, but more people turned to Hurdle after the killing of George Floyd.

In Memphis, Tennessee, Erica Plybeah, 33, is focused on providing transportation. Her company, MedHaul, works with providers and patients to secure low-cost rides to get people to and from their medical appointments. Caregivers, patients or providers fill out a form on MedHaul’s website, then Plybeah’s team helps them schedule a ride.

While MedHaul is for everyone, Plybeah knows people of color, anyone with a low income and residents of rural areas are more likely to face transportation hurdles. She founded the company in 2017 after years of watching her mother take care of her grandmother, who had lost two limbs to Type 2 diabetes. They lived in the Mississippi Delta, where transportation options were scarce.

“For years, my family struggled with our transportation because my mom was her primary transporter,” Plybeah said. “Trying to schedule all of her doctor’s appointments around her work schedule was just a nightmare.”

Plybeah’s company recently received funding from Citi, the banking giant.

“I’m more than proud of her,” said Plybeah’s mother, Annie Steele. “Every step amazes me. What she is doing is going to help people for many years to come.”

Health in Her Hue launched in 2018 with just six doctors on the roster. Two years later, users can download the app at no cost and then scroll through roughly 1,000 providers.

“People are constantly talking about Black women’s poor health outcomes, and that’s where the conversation stops,” said Wisdom, who lives in New York City. “I didn’t see anyone building anything to empower us.”

As her business continues to grow, Wisdom draws inspiration from friends such as Nathan Pelzer, 37, another Black tech founder, who has launched a company in Chicago. Clinify Health works with community health centers and independent clinics in underserved communities. The company analyzes medical and social data to help doctors identify their most at-risk patients and those they haven’t seen in awhile. By focusing on getting those patients preventive care, the medical providers can help them improve their health and avoid trips to the emergency room.

“You can think of Clinify Health as a company that supports triage outside of the emergency room,” Pelzer said.

Pelzer said he started the company by printing out online slideshows he’d made and throwing them in the trunk of his car. “I was driving around the South Side of Chicago, knocking on doors, saying, ‘Hey, this is my idea,’” he said.

Wisdom got her app idea from being so stressed while working a job during grad school that she broke out in hives.

“It was really bad,” Wisdom recalled. “My hand would just swell up, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.”

The breakouts also baffled her allergist, a white woman, who told Wisdom to take two Allegra every day to manage the discomfort. “I remember thinking if she was a Black woman, I might have shared a bit more about what was going on in my life,” Wisdom said.

The moment inspired her to build an online community. Her idea started off small. She found health content in academic journals, searched for eye-catching photos that would complement the text and then posted the information on Instagram.

Things took off from there. This fall, Health in Her Hue launched “care squads” for users who want to discuss their health with doctors or with other women interested in the same topics.

“The last thing you want to do when you go into the doctor’s office is feel like you have to put on an armor and feel like you have to fight the person or, like, you know, be at odds with the person who’s supposed to be helping you on your health journey,” Wisdom said. “And that’s oftentimes the position that Black people, and largely also Black women, are having to deal with as they’re navigating health care. And it just should not be the case.”

As Black tech founders, Wisdom, Dedner, Pelzer and Plybeah look for ways to support one another by trading advice, chatting about funding and looking for ways to come together. Pelzer and Wisdom met a few years ago as participants in a competition sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. They reconnected at a different event for Black founders of technology companies and decided to help each other.

“We’re each other’s therapists,” Pelzer said. “It can get lonely out here as a Black founder.”

In the future, Plybeah wants to offer transportation services and additional assistance to people caring for aging family members. She also hopes to expand the service to include dropping off customers for grocery and pharmacy runs, workouts at gyms and other basic errands.

Pelzer wants Clinify Health to make tracking health care more fun — possibly with incentives to keep users engaged. He is developing plans and wants to tap into the same competitive energy that fitness companies do.

Wisdom wants to support physicians who seek to improve their relationships with patients of color. The company plans to build a library of resources that professionals could use as a guide.

“We’re not the first people to try to solve these problems,” Dedner said. Yet he and the other three feel the pressure to succeed for more than just themselves and those who came before them.

“I feel like, if I fail, that’s potentially going to shut the door for other Black women who are trying to build in this space,” Wisdom said. “But I try not to think about that too much.”

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The lifesaving power of gratitude (or, why you should write that thank you note)

The lifesaving power of gratitude (or, why you should write that thank you note)

The lifesaving power of gratitude (or, why you should write that thank you note)

An attitude of gratitude may relieve stress, which in turn may lead to better health. michaelhelm/Shutterstock.com
Richard Gunderman, Indiana University

Gratitude may be more beneficial than we commonly suppose. One recent study asked subjects to write a note of thanks to someone and then estimate how surprised and happy the recipient would feel – an impact that they consistently underestimated. Another study assessed the health benefits of writing thank you notes. The researchers found that writing as few as three weekly thank you notes over the course of three weeks improved life satisfaction, increased happy feelings and reduced symptoms of depression.

While this research into gratitude is relatively new, the principles involved are anything but. Students of mine in a political philosophy course at Indiana University are reading Daniel Defoe’s 300-year-old “Robinson Crusoe,” often regarded as the first novel published in English. Marooned alone on an unknown island with no apparent prospect of rescue or escape, Crusoe has much to lament. But instead of giving in to despair, he makes a list of things for which he is grateful, including the fact that he is the shipwreck’s sole survivor and has been able to salvage many useful items from the wreckage.

Defoe’s masterpiece, which is often ranked as one of the world’s greatest novels, provides a portrait of gratitude in action that is as timely and relevant today as it has ever been. It is also one with which contemporary psychology and medicine are just beginning to catch up. Simply put, for most of us, it is far more helpful to focus on the things in life for which we can express gratitude than those that incline us toward resentment and lamentation.

The benefits of gratitude

When we focus on the things we regret, such as failed relationships, family disputes, and setbacks in career and finance, we tend to become more regretful. Conversely, when we focus on the things we are grateful for, a greater sense of happiness tends to pervade our lives. And while no one would argue for cultivating a false sense of blessedness, there is mounting evidence that counting our blessings is one of the best habits we can develop to promote mental and physical health.

A teenager in Malaysia gives thanks. Young Swee Ming/Shutterstock.com

Gratitude has long enjoyed a privileged position in many of the world’s faith traditions. For example, the Biblical Book of Psalms counsels gratitude that is both enduring and complete, saying, “I will give thanks to you forever” and “with my whole heart.” Martin Luther writes of gratitude as the heart of the Gospel, portraying it as not merely an attitude but a virtue to be put into practice. The Quran recommends gratitude, saying “Whoever gives thanks benefits his own soul.”

Recent scientific studies support these ancient teachings. Individuals who regularly engage in gratitude exercises, such as counting their blessings or expressing gratitude to others, exhibit increased satisfaction with relationships and fewer symptoms of physical illness. And the benefits are not only psychological and physical. They may also be moral – those who practice gratitude also view their lives less materialistically and suffer from less envy.

Why gratitude is good for you

There are multiple explanations for such benefits of gratefulness. One is the fact that expressing gratitude encourages others to continue being generous, thus promoting a virtuous cycle of goodness in relationships. Similarly, grateful people may be more likely to reciprocate with acts of kindness of their own. Broadly speaking, a community in which people feel grateful to one another is likely to be a more pleasant place to live than one characterized by mutual suspicion and resentment.

The beneficial effects of gratitude may extend even further. For example, when many people feel good about what someone else has done for them, they experience a sense of being lifted up, with a corresponding enhancement of their regard for humanity. Some are inspired to attempt to become better people themselves, doing more to help bring out the best in others and bringing more goodness into the world around them.

Gratitude also tends to strengthen a sense of connection with others. When people want to do good things that inspire gratitude, the level of dedication in relationships tends to grow and relationships seem to last longer. And when people feel more connected, they are more likely to choose to spend their time with one another and demonstrate their feelings of affection in daily acts.

Of course, acts of kindness can also foster discomfort. For example, if people feel they are not worthy of kindness or suspect that some ulterior motive lies behind it, the benefits of gratitude will not be realized. Likewise, receiving a kindness can give rise to a sense of indebtedness, leaving beneficiaries feeling that they must now pay back whatever good they have received. Gratitude can flourish only if people are secure enough in themselves and sufficiently trusting to allow it to do so.

Another obstacle to gratitude is often called a sense of entitlement. Instead of experiencing a benefaction as a good turn, people sometimes regard it as a mere payment of what they are owed, for which no one deserves any moral credit. While seeing that justice is done is important, supplanting all opportunities for genuine feelings and expressions of generosity can also produce a more impersonal and fragmented community.

Practicing gratitude

There are a number of practical steps anyone can take to promote a sense of gratitude. One is simply spending time on a regular basis thinking about someone who has made a difference, or perhaps writing a thank you note or expressing such gratitude in person. Others are found in ancient religious disciplines, such as meditating on benefactions received from another person or actually praying for the health and happiness of a benefactor.

In addition to benefactions received, it is also possible to focus on opportunities to do good oneself, whether those acted on in the past or hoped for in the future. Some people are most grateful not for what others have done for them but for chances they enjoyed to help others. To envision gratitude at its best, imagine a person hoping and perhaps even praying for an opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

An island that may resemble the one on which Robinson Crusoe was marooned. Nikos38/Shutterstock.com

In regularly reflecting on the things in his life he is grateful for, Defoe’s Crusoe believes that he becomes a far better person than he would have been had he remained in the society from which he originally set out on his voyage:

“I gave humble and hearty thanks that God had been pleased to discover to me, even that it was possible I might be more happy in this solitary condition, than I should have been a liberty of society, and all the pleasures of the world… It was now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this life I now led was, with all its miserable circumstances, than the wicked, cursed, abominable life I led all the past part of my days.”

Reflecting on generosity and gratitude, the great basketball coach John Wooden once offered two counsels to his players and students. First, he said, “It is impossible to have a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” In saying this, Wooden sought to promote purely generous acts, as opposed to those performed with an expectation of recompense. Second, he said, “Give thanks for your blessings every day.”

Some faith traditions incorporate such practices into the rhythm of daily life. For example, adherents of some religions offer prayers of thanksgiving every morning before rising and every night before lying down to sleep. Others offer thanks throughout the day, such as before meals. Other less frequent special events, such as births, deaths and marriages, may also be heralded by such prayers.

When Defoe depicted Robinson Crusoe making thanksgiving a daily part of his island life, he was anticipating findings in social science and medicine that would not appear for hundreds of years. Yet he was also reflecting the wisdom of religious and philosophical traditions that extend back thousands of years. Gratitude is one of the healthiest and most nourishing of all states of mind, and those who adopt it as a habit are enriching not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them.The Conversation

Richard Gunderman, Chancellor's Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

3 Ways Going Vegan has Helped my Walk with God

3 Ways Going Vegan has Helped my Walk with God

A lot of people are making the switch to becoming vegan, but what does being a vegan have to do with our faith? Here our 3 ways becoming a vegan has helped my walk with God.

  1. Discipline

The reason that I decided to even attempt this wild endeavor in the first place was to get a better grip on my health. If the last two years have taught me anything, it is not to take my time for granted. For as long as I could remember, food was always more than just food to me. It had emotional weight to it, like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time. Having to learn to eat for a purpose instead of for comfort has probably been the hardest part of this whole transition. Eventually, I accepted that there was no magic bullet that could reconcile these two different views of food. The key to success was discipline, getting up and holding myself accountable to the standard I had set for myself. This has begun to seep into other parts of my life, including my prayer life. Slowly, I’ve noticed it’s easier to get the motivation to do things that aren’t necessarily the most exciting but are important including reading my Bible and praying.

2. A greater appreciation for nature

Another consequence that I have noticed as a result of giving up meat is that I have a greater appreciation for nature. Before, I recognized that much of my diet was directly disconnected from me either through processing or butchering. Since the switch though, I find that I obviously eat a lot more raw fruits and vegetables. As a result, I have to be intentional about what I’m putting in my body which means learning what food contains which vitamins and minerals. I was actually in the grocery store trying to buy some peppers when I realized just how perfectly God built this world for us. Everything we need to live comes from the Earth, nature is a system built to take care of us. Even animals each have their function beyond just food for us, although they often become food for other things. However, what this means is not that we should take these resources for granted, they are special. God commands Adam to look after his creation mere verses after creating him. Nature is not just something to be manipulated for personal gain. It takes care of us and we, in turn, should take care of it. 

3. Greater appreciation for myself

As I said earlier, one of the major motivations for my decision to go vegan is to improve my health. I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks but all of the things vegans say they felt after switching are actually pretty valid. My skin is clearer than it’s been in years, I have a lot more energy, and I’ve actually lost a few pounds too. Perhaps the best change that has happened concerns my relationship with eating. Before the switch, I’d always felt a little guilty after eating something. I’ve never been a small person and that comes with certain hang-ups like being self-conscious about what you put in your body. Since the switch, I haven’t really felt like that. Even when I slip up, I know that I am doing the right thing by getting back on track the next day. That level of self-assurance is nice, it drives me to exercise and to keep going even when I really want to tuck into a juicy rack of ribs. It also just makes me feel more confident in general. Jesus calls loving your neighbor as yourself one of the most important commandments and people tend to latch onto the first part without stopping to consider the second. It’s hard to love your neighbor when you hardly love yourself. I’m not just talking about confidence, but also your physical self. Switching has made me feel like I’m treating my body as a temple for the first time in a long time. I feel more capable of reaching my goals and working to advance God’s kingdom

I didn’t make this piece to win over converts to veganism. If you’re considering it then I think you should give it a try, but the most important goal is to get healthy and stay healthy. Of course, this process is going to vary from person to person but the most important part is the first step. Go for a run, make a meal plan, or just talk about health with your friends and family members. These are all great first steps to a healthier life and you might even learn something on the way.