Despite key health advancements, much remains to be accomplished in medicine and population health. This is one of the many reasons we’re excited about the All of Us Research Program.
Raised in Gary, Indiana, and having attended the Howard University College of Medicine, I always envisioned that my medical career would be an opportunity to work with and serve patients with whom I share a common heritage and ethnicity. Returning to my hometown to practice medicine made this vision a reality as did my leadership with various national organizations that are focused on addressing various health disparities.
My 50-year career as a physician and advocate proved ample time to reflect on the most critical health challenges facing African-Americans and other communities of color. One such challenge is the lack of specialized treatment developed with our communities in mind. I strongly believe in the importance of being on the front lines of medical research, and, time and again, have been disappointed with the development of clinical approaches and guidelines that completely miss the mark in representing our constituencies.
For over a century, the National Medical Association (NMA) has been devoted to equal access to medicine and quality care, pushing for innovation and advancement of public health. In 2004, our Association leadership realized the value of the NMA would be strengthened by working toward solutions that would progress the U.S. health system toward tailored care and related services for our nation’s diverse populations, across race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
As an organization of physicians primarily working with communities that have been traditionally underserved in medicine, we were highly concerned that African-Americans and people of color continued to face greater health challenges and much lower life expectancy rates. Equally troubling to us was that people of color remained historically underrepresented in important research informing prevention and treatment.
Acknowledgment of these realities motivated NMA to launch the W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Institute (Cobb Institute), inspired by Dr. William Montague Cobb who was a renowned physician and the first African-American to earn a doctorate in anthropology. Today, the Cobb Institute lives to serve minority communities through thoughtful policy analysis and research around leading health indicators and the disproportionate burden among these populations of chronic disease and early morbidity and mortality.
The Cobb Institute seeks to use research as a mechanism to craft public policy, frameworks and strategies to positively impact the health of communities of color. We work with movements that strive to break down health barriers standing in the way of medical parity for disadvantaged populations. For these reasons, we are proud to serve as an official partner to the All of Us Research Program, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
All of Us was created to advance precision medicine in the United States, ensuring that healthcare providers are armed with the knowledge and background necessary to provide the most tailored and effective services to every individual and every community across the nation. One million or more participants will be asked to share their health data, creating a research database that will help doctors identify and treat disease and illnesses more quickly and precisely based on a patient’s background, lifestyle, environment and genetic makeup.
For years, we at the National Medical Association and Cobb Institute have been working to increase African-American awareness and participation in clinical and biomedical research. One accomplishment has been encouraging our physicians to participate in clinical research and then supporting them in bringing this information back to their patients, thereby making them more inclined to participate in such research. Programs like All of Us are additional ways we can further research participation as well as inspire all people to actively advocate for equal access to effective treatments and care in order to truly inspire change.
National enrollment for the All of Us Research Program officially opened to the public on Sunday. My family and I, along with my colleagues at the Cobb Institute, are proud to take part in this groundbreaking program. We have the opportunity to ensure this program has a long-term positive impact on the health of our communities and science as a whole; the more specific and representative the research, the better the options and outcomes for each individual. Please join us in our mission for equal treatment and care to improve not only our own health and well-being, but also that of our children and of generations to come.
To learn more about the program and how you can get involved, please visit joinallofus.org.
Dr. Randall Morgan is the Executive Director of the W. Montague Cobb/National Medical Association (NMA) Health Institute.