Dr. Bell Brings COVID-19 Education to Underserved Communities
March 25, 2021 | 3 min. to read
Kimbra Bell, MD, FACP, has seen first-hand what physician outreach can do for underserved communities, and she has made it her mission to make a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
A passion for community health has been constant throughout her career, so when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dr. Bell knew she wanted to help. As a primary care physician who serves a largely Black patient population, she also knew her patients were among the highest risk for disparity amid the pandemic.
“As a result of many deeply rooted systemic factors and history itself, we have to be vigilant,” says Dr. Bell. As one of only two Black physicians in her practice, she knows the importance of being able to help by identifying with her patients. “Education is our best weapon, and often a message is received better when it’s delivered by someone who looks like you.”
Dr. Bell started volunteering for the Northwestern Medicine COVID-19 Hotline. While she found speaking to callers on a one-on-one basis gratifying, she wanted to educate and answer questions on a larger scale to help address physical, mental and spiritual needs in Black communities.
She saw political figures trying to reach communities on television, so she decided to partner with them as a physician. She connected with Illinois state Rep. La Shawn Ford and other Black elected officials representing Chicago’s South and West Side communities, which have been overwhelmingly impacted by COVID-19. Things took off from there. Their first Facebook Live event last spring reached more than 250 viewers. Since then, they have gained momentum.
As topics around COVID-19 progressed, so did the need for presentations. To date, Dr. Bell has been asked to participate in numerous COVID-19 community education presentations, reaching hundreds of individuals. Religious organizations, sororities, political groups and more have all been avenues for Dr. Bell to reach Black communities throughout Chicago.
“Community education is a passion of mine, especially when it comes to the education of underserved and often overlooked populations,” says Dr. Bell.
She believes in the adage, “You have to know better to do better.”
“Knowledge is power, and the ability to educate others — especially as it relates to a disease that has devastated our communities — is empowering to me as a physician,” she continues. “But more importantly, it is empowering to those who are able to take the knowledge that I impart, and use it to make wise and well-informed decisions that are potentially lifesaving.”
Addressing myths about the virus and building trust in the healthcare system through education is essential in communities directly impacted by healthcare disparities. Validation is key in building trust, says Dr. Bell, who notes it is important to allow patients to express emotions of worry and concern.
As a Black woman, Dr. Bell can relate to her patients’ pain, and she understands the origins of mistrust and the importance of empathy. As a physician, she says it is important to be genuinely understanding, yet strategic in conversation. “Once you’ve opened up to understand their viewpoint, it is time to shift the conversation to where we are now and the important steps communities of color can take to save lives,” she explains.
Dr. Bell’s community outreach will continue through the pandemic and beyond, and she looks forward to brighter days ahead. “It’s a new day and time,” she says. “As physicians, it is important to embrace the power of educating our communities towards a better tomorrow.”