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How the Birthing Project can be utilized to provide social supports for women of color

By Ryan Coleman, 4th Year Medical Student


Racial disparities have an enormous impact on maternal and infant health outcomes. The Maternal Mortality rate in the United States is almost triple the rate in comparable countries across the world. When you break down the data even further, African American women experience a mortality rate almost four times that of white women here in the United States. Infant mortality rates and teen birth rates in African American families are twice that of white families. While shocking and devastating, this data is nothing new. Research has been ongoing for years to determine the root cause of these extraordinary differences. Disparity in healthcare coverage was considered the sole contributor for a while, but recently, research has shown just how large of a role social determinants of health and systemic racism play. Food insecurity, poor health literacy, and low socio-economic status are all factors we must address and consider as we move forward to solve this healthcare disparity. Without making efforts to combat these underlying factors, we will never truly make a dent in the existing gap in healthcare access and utilization.


I discovered the Arkansas Birthing project the summer of 2021 while trying to find an organization to work with during my final year in the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program at UAMS in Little Rock, AR. As a final year medical student planning on going into OB-GYN, the Birthing project struck a chord with me. Offering support to African American women during and after their pregnancy to improve outcomes is a noble cause. I had a basic understanding of the healthcare disparities facing women of color, but I underestimated the extent until I started working with the Birthing Project. During my time in the hospital, I’ve seen firsthand the difference some providers show in the care offered to white women and women of color. It was incredibly frustrating knowing about this problem and, until recently, not knowing how I could help. Since joining the Birthing Project, I’ve been able to connect them with the Women’s Health clinic at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Through their support, we will be able to offer Medicaid advice and support, medical referrals, and even transportation to prenatal visits. Now that this connection is being formed, over time, the Birthing project will be able to provide additional social support and education to struggling African American women across Arkansas, while having the medical backing of the UAMS Women’s Clinic behind it.


It is my personal goal to further evolve the relationship between this organization and the College of Public Health and the College of Medicine at UAMS. Since I have the unique experience of understanding the medical perspective and am now participating in the social support aspect, I feel more confident in my ability to connect the two to create a more harmonious relationship working towards the support of women across the state. We are currently working towards having experienced medical students participate in the support of African American women during pregnancy through the Birthing Project. This will allow us to take advantage of the medical expertise these students have and use it to increase overall education regarding pregnancy and childbirth for women who may have had limited education on the process. Increasing education will hopefully lead to earlier prenatal visits, decreased postpartum issues, and decreased stress associated with pregnancy. It has been my pleasure to help the Birthing Project up to this point, and I look forward to the work we will be able to do in the future.