This post was written by Sarah McAfee, a former member of our team.
I’m a mommy and a wife. I’m a born and raised Alaskan that has built snow caves to sleep in and fed moose by hand. I have won spelling bees, trained dolphins, and completed (very, very slowly) ten sprint triathlons. Right now, my most useful skills are things like: can change a blowout diaper in an airplane bathroom with no changing table during turbulence, can bail water out of an actively flooding basement fast enough to save all the furniture, or can construct a rolling tripod out of a coat rack and furniture dolly. But, of course, you won’t find any of that on my resume. It’ll say I have a master’s degree in public administration and I write real good.
As a society, we put a lot of stock in the credentials we’ve earned by toiling through the education system. Colorado is the third most-educated state, largely because of how many Coloradans have a college degree (it bears pointing out, however, that we fare much worse in the “quality of education and attainment gap” metric). And, especially in our world of health care, the alphabet soup of degree and credential abbreviations—MD, CNA, MSW, ANP, DDS, PsyD, MPH, EMT—is extensive and ubiquitous. These credentials become part of our identity, a way to introduce ourselves, and a signal of our social class. And it’s that last one where things get tricky.
At Center for Health Progress, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our own identifiers and the way we ask others to identify themselves. We’ve taken steps like adding our pronouns to our business cards and email signatures to reflect our commitment to being inclusive of all gender identities and expressions. But this question of credentials really had us stumped—how do we recognize and honor an individual’s hard work in reaching an educational milestone, while still recognizing and bringing attention to the fact that our education system is as deeply flawed as our health care system, in that it is inaccessible to many, due to factors like racism and poverty? It might seem like an insignificant decision as to whether or not to list a person’s education credentials on a name badge or in a partner list, but in fact it communicates very important information about our approach to this work.
We believe the only way to create an equitable health care system is by ensuring all voices are heard and considered in its design. However, some Coloradans—many of whom, for a number of reasons, may not have educational credentials to list—are excluded from current conversations and efforts. We need these Coloradans’ expertise at the table, because they understand best the challenges and barriers of our current health care system. And, their expertise deserves equal recognition with whatever other degrees happen to be at the table with them.
So, we asked for some advice. After consulting Angell Pérez, a racial justice and equity expert, we’ve decided the right path forward is to ask everyone to define their own credentials in whatever way is important to them. If your doctoral degree is what makes you an expert in how the mental health system should work, then we want to celebrate that. If your experience as a single mom of a special needs child is what makes you an expert in how Medicaid should work, then we want to celebrate that. Or, if you don’t consider your credentials important to your identity and expertise, we want to honor that, too.
I hope you’ll join me in thinking about how you define yourself and others as we work to make the health care system and its decision-making tables more welcoming and inclusive. Tell me--what would your new bio say?