Why Culturally Competent Health Care Matters

Dr. Andrea Willis

For many years we’ve celebrated Black History Month at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. But this year’s Black Health and Wellness theme sparked some of the most inspiring discussions yet.

At BlueCross, we believe in health equity and are committed to deepening our understanding of the diverse people we serve and creating specific standards and practices that will help improve their health outcomes. That’s what culturally competent care is all about.

During our recent employee Black History Month event, we were fortunate to be in the company of an individual on the forefront of public health in America, and someone I consider a mentor and a friend, Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, the president & CEO of Meharry Medical College. Dr. Hildreth shared how he was led to pursue a career in medicine, and discussed the history of health and wellness in the Black community as well as the journey toward advancing health equity.

His words were powerful and helpful in understanding what social determinants of health are and how they affect some people more than others. He reminded us that access to education and quality health care, your neighborhood, the built environment that we find ourselves in – and especially technology – all matter. And they all have the ability to create separation between people in disadvantaged communities and achieving better health.

We know that the COVID pandemic has exacerbated health disparities. And although minority communities have shown resilience, many remain at increased risk for a variety of health conditions.

Like Dr. Hildreth, I didn’t see Black doctors growing up, although I had heard of them. What I did see on a daily basis was a lot of hard work and determination all around me, which helped propel me to become a doctor. So when I was accepted into Georgetown Medical School, it wasn’t just me entering those doors, it was the hopes and dreams of my entire family and community.

Now it’s my hope that we continue these discussions – and the hard work and determination it takes to create change beyond this month’s celebration.

Dr. Andrea Willis is senior vice president and chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.