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‘Compelled to be part of the solution:’ Dr. Sherls-Jones pioneers health equity at MultiCare.

UPDATED: 02/18/2022

It’s one thing to be astounded about a problem so big, you can trace its roots back for centuries.

It’s another to do something about it.

That’s how you know who the real leaders are. Take Dr. Jamilia Sherls-Jones, for instance.

“I was astounded to learn there are different healthcare outcomes for people because of factors such as race, insurance status, or sexual orientation to name a few,” Sherls-Jones said. “After learning about health disparities more than a decade ago, I felt compelled and motivated to be part of the solution.”

A nurse leader, Dr. Sherls-Jones founded MultiCare’s Health Equity program and now works as the program’s first Director.

She looks at equity gaps in Washington’s largest, not-for-profit, community-based, locally owned health system and does what she can to fix them.

Inspired to fix a broken system.

Health equity was a focus of Dr. Sherls-Jones’ graduate school studies. If you’re not familiar with the term, health equity means everyone has the opportunity to reach their full health potential.

Some groups of people don’t have a fair chance at good health. Much of your health is tied to income, education, neighborhood, race and other social factors.

How do you begin fixing that in a healthcare system? It’s a big job that demands a smart strategy.

Dr. Sherls-Jones’ team conducts assessments and develops strategies aimed to advance health equity within MultiCare. They host trainings to ensure leaders and staff keep health equity at the forefront of their work. They provide staff and the public with culturally and linguistically appropriate resources. And they answer questions their healthcare providers may have about treating diverse groups of patients.

Health equity is everyone’s job.

A problem that complex requires many smart minds working together. Dr. Sherls-Jones makes sure her team hears from lots of people with different perspectives.

“We incorporate the community voice in the work we are doing,” she said.

To make sure that happens, MultiCare relies on a Health Equity Community Advisory Board with more than 30 groups representing marginalized communities.

While she is committed to making healthcare equitable for all, she can’t do it alone. Everyone needs to work toward the same goal.

“My job is to be a collaborative leader, resource and example of health equity,” she said. “Our department isn’t 100% responsible for ensuring health equity. It’s everyone’s job, and we are there to lead the way in the work.”

Dr. Jamilia Sherls-Jones

Black history is American history.

February is Black History Month. You can trace the roots of unfair health outcomes today back through hundreds of years of our history.

That’s why it’s no surprise Dr. Sherls-Jones’ work echoes that of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who in 1864 became the first Black woman to get a medical degree in the U.S. paving the way for others to become part of the solution.

Dr. Crumpler treated people with little or no access to health care, which is still a problem for many Black Americans today. Millions of emancipated African Americans needed medical support, and Dr. Crumpler wanted to help. She first practiced in Boston, MA before she moved to Richmond, VA.

Dr. Crumpler worked for several organizations and missionary groups offering care to formerly enslaved people. For many, it was the only medical care they could receive. Severe racism and a lack of connections and resources excluded Black people from the healthcare system. This meant they had to create their own opportunities.

In “A Book of Medical Discourses, in Two Parts,” Dr. Crumpler wrote, “I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to be in a position to relieve the sufferings of others.” 

 We can’t improve the present if we don’t remember and honor the past. All year, every year we should honor Black history—and celebrate the work Black people are doing to improve health equity in our community.

Visit our Black History Month page to learn why Black history is important for all Americans.

UPDATED: 02/18/2022