Q&A with a Medical Champion

Nathan Chomilo, MD FAAP, General Pediatrician & Internist, Park Nicollet Health Services; Medicaid Medical Director, Minnesota Department of Human Services; Board Member,
Reach Out and Read MN and the MN chapter of the AAP

Can you describe the intersection of public health and racial equity?

There is no true public health without racial equity. We see this when we look at the impact of structural racism on our communities. In nearly every measure Black and Indigenous populations lag behind White populations. This is due to structural racism and the policies that have been intentionally designed to disadvantage Black and Brown communities while advantaging White communities. This is why racism is one of the top issues listed by the American Public Health Association and I would argue it is the public health issue of our country.

Can you describe how literacy is a social driver for health?

Drivers of health are based on how we have structured opportunities within our society. They include things like housing, nutrition, access to employment, interaction with the criminal justice system, and education. To me, literacy is a core social driver of health given that it impacts your access to so many of the other social drivers. A child’s early literacy skills lay the foundation for how they will do in school, their potential for graduation, which impacts their ability to get a job with fair wage and benefits like health insurance, access to loans and homeownership, and ability to mitigate the impacts of environmental racism.

In regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion how do you believe the work of Reach Out and Read can be a part of the solution?

There have been a number of cities and counties that have declared racism a public health crisis in the last year, most within the last few weeks since George Floyd’s torture and murder. They all have at least one common recommendation and that is the application of a racial equity assessment to policy and decision-making processes. In my policy work, I liken this to how every decision has a fiscal note. If someone were to propose a policy and had not addressed the impact on the budget that policy would be a non-starter. We need the same expectation and level of attention to racial equity.

What is your favorite children’s book, and why?

On the Night You were Born – written and illustrated by Nancy Tillman
Our son was born on January 6 after four years of trying, my wife having to be hospitalized for seven weeks on bed rest and he was two months early. So there was a lot of anxiety (even more than your average first-time parents) in addition to all the joy, and we read that book the first night he joined us and then every night that first week and then on the sixth of every month in his first year. So in addition to it just being a wonderful book, we have a lot of personal connection to it, the story it tells, and the future it helps us imagine.