Medicine Is Still Rife With Inequalities

As a teen, Anisa Shomo had to take three buses to get to the doctor. Now, she’s the one wearing the white coat.

Illustration by Katrin Rodegast

Ever since she was a child, Anisa Shomo knew that access to healthcare was an uphill battle. Now in her own family practice, she’s made it her mission to make care available for all.

When you think about the progress of racism, my father has a degree, but he graduated college in the ’70s, and there were not a lot of jobs for Black people, so he ended up cleaning at University Hospital in Cleveland. I grew up in the hospital and in a healthcare family where everybody was always like, You’re gonna be the doctor.

Anisa Shomo, M.D.

Photograph by Shon Curtis, OMS Photography

Most people feel comfortable with people they’re used to being around. That translates into the patient room. I grew up in a lot of Black communities, and a big thing for me is that patients feel more comfortable with me being their doctor. There’s been studies to show that when white doctors are taking care of Black patients, they don’t make as much eye contact with the patients. For me, as a family doctor, the most important thing in my job is how I communicate with people.

At a young age, I understood how the way that my family interacted with the health care system could be better. When my doctor moved out to the [Cleveland] suburbs, I had to catch three buses to get there. I often wondered why my doctor wasn’t in my community. There aren’t a lot of doctors in Black neighborhoods, or Latinx neighborhoods.

So I think that’s a big thing—having doctor’s offices in those communities, but also having people from those communities in those places.

The biggest thing right now is gun violence. One of my nephews was murdered last year. I have counseled so many of my patients dealing with losing family members to gun violence. We deal with a lot. Being Black people living in Black neighborhoods is stressful. That’s why it’s important, though—because a lot of people don’t know what to say to people when they go through that experience. And I know exactly what to say to people.

They say that Black people, our blood pressure is high whether we deal with poverty or not, because it’s just stressful, dealing with a lot of what we deal with. Even for me, as a Black doctor, I deal with a lot of systems that don’t understand how powerful I am and that don’t give me the time and the resources I need to help me take care of people. I just try to do what I can to advocate for my patients. I try to practice from a place of love.

Anisa Shomo, M.D, Family Medicine Physician, UC Health; Assistant Professor, UC Department of Family and Community Medicine

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