A leading government official for minority health in the United States said Friday that while the country has made strides toward narrowing the gap in health equality, there is still work to be done.
As deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E, plays a major role in the development and implementation of government programs and policies to battle health disparities in the United States.
“Our goal is not only to close the gap, but to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential of health,” said Gracia, who delivered the UMKC School of Medicine’s 11th annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health.
Gracia offered a brief overview of her office and how it looks at the disparities in health and health care in the country. She called this year a landmark for the office, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary of working to improve the health of racial and ethnic minorities.
She outlined many of the factors, from changing demographics to the various economic barriers, which play into the health discrepancies still seen in today’s population.
“All of these factors make the mission and the role of the Office of Minority Health more urgent now than ever before,” Gracia said.
A pediatrician with a focus in epidemiology, Gracia received her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh where she was a student of current UMKC School of Medicine Dean Steven Kanter, M.D., and his wife, Leslie Borsett-Kanter, M.D. Gracia established herself as a leader on a national level while in medical school. With Kanter’s urging and support, Gracia rose to the position of president of the Student National Medical Association. She is a national president emeritus of the organization is also a past postgraduate physician trustee of the National Medical Association.
She has since served as the chief medical officer for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, providing program and policy leadership for a number of initiatives from global health to climate change. Gracia also served as a White House fellow and policy advisor to First Lady Michelle Obama on a program to battle childhood obesity. She has been named one of the 100 History Makers in the Making by the African-American news site, TheGrio, and one of Washington’s Powerful Women by the BET channel.
Gracia said that under the current presidential administration, health-care priorities such as the Affordable Care Act and My Brother’s Keeper, a task force designed to ensure all youths have the opportunity to reach their full potential, have been implemented to keep Americans healthy and safe, boost scientific research and medical innovations, and to expand and strengthen the health care system.
She also recognized the work taking place on local levels. Gracia applauded the efforts of physicians and researchers at the School of Medicine and throughout UMKC in addressing the issue of health equality in the Kansas City community.
“The work you are doing, reaching out to the community and providing opportunities is one that is of great need,” Gracia said. “We ask that we continue to work together in this dramatic year in which we are talking about accelerating health equity for the nation, not just continuing our efforts but truly accelerating our progress so we can reach that goal of reaching the full potential for health.”