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Five Lessons For Health Care From The Civil Rights Movement

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Dr. Paula Johnson — Chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and Executive Director for the Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology — spoke today of the need for a new grassroots movement — a civil-rights-like activist uprising — to promote equal, high-quality health care for all. Her remarks were part of an event honoring the noted psychiatrist, activist, author, consultant, and Harvard professor, Dr. Alvin Pouissant, who provided medical care to civil rights protestors and worked towards desegregating medical facilities in the Deep South in the 1960’s.

Dr. Johnson (who, full disclosure, has treated a close member of my family) is herself a pioneer, serving as the first African American chief medical resident in the history of the Brigham, and a physician on the forefront of women’s health and cardiology.

Here she describes what health care can learn from civil rights:



100 years after the end of the civil war; he laid down the gauntlet.

This awakening would lay the foundation for the Great Society, the War on Poverty...made possible by his leadership and by the leadership of King and others --- stepping into the fray and creating a partnership between the movement and the government.

As the leader of the free world, he would go on to describe a vision, a vision that embraced the “societal approach” --- the Great Society of which the “The War on Poverty” was the signature.

Today is the time to address health, as a society! That leads me to the fifth lesson:

The need for Innovation
The Civil Rights Movement used a new set of tools, “non- violent protest”, collaboration among the disparate groups, and the media. Leadership was redefined as both leadership from the top and grass-roots leadership.

Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement also understood the power of the media --- harnessing it by using a combination of nonviolent methods and the media to influence public opinion.

Just remember the indelible images in Selma on Bloody Sunday, the tear gas and beatings with billy clubs --- and remember that all of America watched. Powerful images that are engraved in our collective memories.

Today, what will be the new generation of images that we will create?

What will we do to bring innovation to creating a healthy America?

This program aired on February 8, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 





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