Remembering the struggles his ancestors endured to provide for the current generation, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) alum Franco Chevalier, MD, celebrates all who were afforded better education and opportunities because of past sacrifices. He also advocates for Hispanics who are suffering from the pandemic because of their continual fight for healthcare equality.
“There is a definite health disparity with the Hispanic population — they are more at risk to get the disease, spread the disease and not get access to proper care,” said the internal medicine doctor, now practicing in southern Florida. He believes that in many cases, the main or only financial provider of the family has a lower-level job that requires in-person attendance and therefore increases exposure. These workers traditionally live with extended family members which creates a social cluster of others who are now at greater risk.
“Family and friends stay close together which can pose an increasing danger. It can be generational or because some are undocumented immigrants. Demographically and statistically, there is an economic inequality in these families that prevents them from accessing healthcare or even establishing a primary care doctor. Transportation may not be readily available either.”
Relating to the Patient
Cultural beliefs can also play a role in inadequate healthcare. Some Hispanics may not believe in traditional medicine, relying instead on herbs and other preventative health mixtures, which can delay critical care. “We have to find a way to connect with them on tradition but also achieve resolution of the disease. When they trust that you’re not going to negotiate the treatment but support them in their beliefs, you have an opportunity to educate and help them medically.”
Chevalier lived the first half of his life in the Dominican Republic, in an underserved community where he witnessed loved ones suffer advanced disease because of limited healthcare and financial means. “These inequalities were going on in my own back yard and I have the opportunity to advocate for my community and my people,” he said about why he’s now applying for an infectious disease fellowship. “We can practice preventative medicine and educate the public about how to treat basic conditions and the importance of vaccines. We can transform the communities.”
All About the Science
As scientists race to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine, Chevalier pleads with the public to remain patient and trust the process. “The biggest mistake is to release a vaccine for the sake of giving people peace of mind. It needs to be effective. We cannot cure the virus. The hope is to manage it and minimize the burden on the healthcare system. Listen to the experts but question everything. That’s the beauty of science — you can make your own decision based on evidence. Science isn’t perfect but healthcare professionals have everyone’s best interests at heart.” Working two months in the COVID-19 intensive care unit, Chevalier saw dozens of extremely ill patients. “Medical protocols changed hourly because of all the data coming in so quickly. All we can do is use the science to come up with solutions that enhance care and prevent deaths.”
The active outdoorsman is the first in his family to practice medicine, thanks to his parents who worked tirelessly to upgrade the family from an underprivileged area to a middle-class community. “We had humble beginnings. My sisters and I were fortunate to have parents who made sacrifices and were diligent with education and telling us that no dream was impossible. Growing up in the Dominican Republic without the same opportunities as the U.S. was tough. Being an Afro Latino man added an extra layer of complexity but one that helped me build resilience and pride. When it comes to people of color, it’s unfortunate to see that unspoken and suppressed racism still exists. Unless it’s happening to you, it can be difficult to relate to all the injustice. But now people are raising their voices and reminding everyone — no matter what color they are — that things could be better. And we’re all starting to do something about it.”
RUSM’s Social Justice Commitments
As we battle the global pandemic, we are also faced with a recurring, prevalent public-health crisis — racial inequities across all platforms including access to healthcare and disparities in outcomes. Leaders at RUSM and those from our parent company, Adtalem Global Education, have joined together to create a framework that we believe will guide us in combating these injustices.
We are proud to share a set of Social Justice Commitments that reflect our collective values and thinking and that will guide our journey toward meaningful action.