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First Person with Dr. Audrey Brewer: Black History Month Reflections

February 24, 2023

In recognition of Black History Month, we asked Dr. Audrey Brewer, Advanced General Pediatrics and Primary Care, to reflect on her career as a Black physician. In this Q&A she discusses how her personal experiences not only helped shape her path and where she is today but continue to impact her professional purpose for the future of her work and research. Read on to hear more about her journey, her passion for health equity and her perspective on what it will take to achieve it.

Q: Can you tell me about an experience that influenced your career path?

A: When I was in medical school, I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic with a church on a mission trip where we worked to help refurbish an orphanage in the capital of Santo Domingo. We also spent time in a small rural town in the Dominican Republic miles away from the border of Haiti providing medical care. During this trip I fell in love with the people I served, particularly the children. Despite the children facing many adversities, whether because of poverty, loss of their parents, child abandonment, or racial discrimination, I learned how resilient children can be. It was truly a humbling and inspiring experience. I felt honored to learn how to organize and operate a medical clinic in a different country.

Working in the Dominican Republic fueled my passion for working in under-resourced communities and advocating for health equity for marginalized pediatric populations.

Q: What motivates you in your career today?

A: Throughout my career my family and close friends have been the source of my motivation. They have always been my biggest supports and inspirations in the work that I do. My parents have instilled in me the importance of serving others and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities. My brother has been a guiding example of pushing boundaries and challenging myself academically. My nieces and nephews have been my biggest cheerleaders, and I continue to strive to set a positive and aspiring example for them by showing what the possibilities can be and what opportunities they have to accomplish their goals.

My close friends have also cried, laughed, and celebrated with me through all the milestones and have helped me to grow throughout my career. They all truly help me to remain humble and grateful, to remember my spiritual foundation that has carried me along my entire life so far.

Q: How does racial and health equity intersect with your professional work?

A: My work was inspired by the experiences I had working on the West Side of Chicago at Lawndale Christian Health (LCHC), a large Federally Qualified Health Care Center. LCHC is an organization that’s worked for many years to address racial and health inequities as the communities they serve face social and economic challenges.

My time serving at LCHC inspired and challenged me to examine ways we can develop strategies to address and influence policies surrounding racial and health equity. I was pushed to dig deeper in how I can contribute; not only with the patients and families I directly served, but how I could be a part of the movement in finding solutions to address racial and health equity in our communities.

I am so privileged to work on projects that focus on understanding how social and cultural factors such as poverty, community conditions (such as violence), and racism (including historical, structural, and individual discrimination) impact the health of children and families. In addition, my work as a physician researcher explores the discovery and development of interventions that build child and family resilience, with the goal of influencing health policies to support marginalized racial and ethnic minority communities.

As a physician advocate the goal of my research is to continue working to empower children and families with the tools needed to thrive in the clinic setting while helping to support the investment into marginalized communities. This helps dismantle structural race and health inequities. In addition, my advocacy work affords me the opportunity to meet with local, state, and federal legislature to encourage them to vote for bills that will help improve the health of racial and ethnic minority children. I am so fortunate and grateful to get the opportunity to now serve my communities whom I love and care deeply about through my work as a physician advocate and researcher.

Q: Can you talk about the importance of health equity?

A: As Black female physician, I am particularly motivated to conduct research which focuses on improving health equity and decreasing health disparities for racial and ethnic minority pediatric patients. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” This statement has always resonated with me because he is challenging us all to strive to attain health equity for all through recognizing how healthcare impacts all aspects of our lives.

To achieve health equity in our country we must reconcile, come to terms with and address the historical and present-day injustices many marginalized populations endure. Not to point blame, but to approach these wrongs with love and compassion. Health equity will allow us to change systems and policies that have resulted in generations of injustices, not only through eliminating preventable racial and ethnic health disparities but by combating economic and social obstacles that have long placed enormous burdens on the health of so many people. Improving health equity will help to address many community conditions we often think about in the context of where we live, learn, work, play, and worship. This includes creating safe places for children and families to play, improving the educational system for so many children living in poverty who have disproportionately experienced inequities in access to high-quality education.

Equity also looks like racial and ethnic groups who have disproportionately experienced difficulty finding affordable and quality housing or were denied mortgages and forced to live in neighborhoods with higher crimes rates and poorly resourced communities, have access to safe and quality homes where children and families can grow and thrive. Having health equity means having access to higher paying jobs and helping to improve the wealth of historically marginalized populations. Creating policies that address all these social factors will help to improve health equity and health outcomes.

Q: Do you have a piece of advice for young people of color interested in pursuing a career in the medical field?

A: Be passionate, stay humble, serve, invest in your communities and fight for your communities. Always look at times when you stumble or fall as periods for growth and development. We are all on a journey to be the best versions of ourselves and our communities need us to fight for justice. Remain patient with the process. View the field of medicine as not a career but a chance to serve others.

Q: How do you choose to celebrate Black History Month?

A: I have chosen to celebrate Black History Month by supporting Black-owned restaurants and businesses locally and nationally. I also love going to my favorite museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, where they have the Black Creativity exhibit that celebrates African American achievements in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics.

I’m also reading the book “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith and have been taking classes from my favorite Peloton instructors during their Black History Month celebrations.

Q: Do you have a favorite Black-owned business in Chicago readers should try?

A: Of course! My favorite Black-owned business in Chicago is Brewer Coffee and Custard Café which is my family’s café located on the South Side of Chicago. People can catch me there some Saturdays helping to make espresso drinks and custard ice cream.

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