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Conversations With A Brain Surgeon…
Healthyblackmen.org continues our exclusive and personal conversation with world famous and gifted neurosurgeon, Dr. Keith Black. The discussion turns personal and political and surprisingly insightful.
HBM: You obviously have reverence for the human brain, I’m wondering your thoughts on those who predispose themselves to head injuries like motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets?
Dr. Black: “I think they are pretty crazy. It’s nice to live life and have a zest for life but riding a motorcycle without a helmet is asking for catastrophe. The brain in sacred and damage to it is devastating.”
HBM: It seems to me that being in such an elite group in your profession, there are really few peers who are working at the level you are—do you ever feel isolated ?
Dr. Black: “I don’t consider myself at the top. The work that one does is no more or less important than another one does. Each of us are given a gift, lots of people have a gift. It’s like Tiger and golf, lots of people can play golf but not all can play like Tiger. You have to put in the hours too, I have a gift, I love it, and I’m in an environment to pursue that.”
HBM: I’d like to talk about African American males in particular—too few young brothers completing high school, going to college, and too many incarcerated. In fact the health outlook for black males as a whole is poor. You’re a father of a black male, what are your thoughts?
Dr. Black: “I’d be most concerned about the images my African American son would be exposed to today if he were younger. Mine is 20 years old at University of Pennsylvania. But I will tell you that my son went to a good school, lived in Bel Air and had a lot of privilege. But when my son got to be 10 or 11, he started to wear his pants near the ground, wanted to be like Kobe or Jay-Z, and he didn’t value a fall-back plan. That was something of a concern for awhile but he was okay because he had two parents to nurture him through that phase. But too many African American males have images on what they see on tv and they buy into that. It’s been problematic for quite some time. Even when I speak to classes today, I see lots of young women, few young men. The boys see being a baller and NBAer as what they want to be as their role models.”
HBM: As a physician, what are your thoughts about the debate over health care reform?
Dr. Black: “I think President Obama missed an opportunity to put health care reform in a better place and it will take a few more years to muster political will. See you really need to align the incentives of the healthcare providers with the needs of the patient. Physicians should be paid on outcomes and the overall health of patient and not by number of procedures or even by the number of patients they see. It doesn’t serve patients well for physicians to be paid on the number of patients they see, the number of procedures they do, etc. If I as a neurosurgeon, know I get paid by operating on a patient vs. getting paid by providing conservative management on a patient—my incentive is the surgical procedure vs. the outcome of the patient.”
Dr. Black: “We [health care system] are going to run out of the money. At some point the system will become so dysfunctional that we’ll have to do something—we should have created a public health system. The VA has a model where physicians are paid a salary and drive toward best outcomes. It’s not perfect but it’s much better than what we have.”
HBM: Black people continue to distrust the medical system based on Tuskegee and other medical tragedies. Do you see any sign of this changing in America?
Dr. Black: “There are still affects we see from that study. African Americans still have great mistrust and some of it is not misplaced. For example, even when you look at African Americans who have a similar socioeconomic status of whites, medical treatment is different overall. And we need much more diversity in the medical workforce to begin to equalize this imbalance. The healthcare provided to African Americans is not equal to the majority of the population…and equalizing for economic backgrounds …it’s important to have diversity in the medical workforce.”
HBM: Lastly, how does an accomplished neurosurgeon like yourself stay healthy?
Dr. Black: “I exercise 3x a week, keep my weight down and have a diet high in fish and low in red meat, I meditate regularly; I eat more of a Mediterranean diet.”
Keith L. Black, MD, serves as Chairman and Professor of the Department of Neurosurgery, Director of Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Instituteand Director of Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He is also author of Brain Surgeon: A Doctor’s Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles.
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