UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — UI students in the College of Applied Health Sciences had an opportunity to hear a public health services director speak about health disparities in COVID-19 treatments.

Dr. Travis Gayles is the Medical Director and Chief of Public Health Services for Montgomery County, Maryland. He spoke with UI students Wednesday about how his department is working to remove obstacles for people of color in treatments and vaccinations for the virus.

“I think when we look at social determinants of health, what we mean by that is things like housing access, access to employment opportunities, education, transportation policies, zoning laws, in terms of where we determine where businesses go, and, and how housing situations are put together,” Gayles explained.

Gayles said people need to become more comfortable addressing difficult conversations about the impact of systemic racism. He offered this advice to students looking to join the medical field:

“I think the most important thing is to be bold, and to be brave,” Gayles said.

He suggested looking at the research questions being used in projects and urged students not to shy away from collecting data to inform their decisions on health disparities.

“I think we have an opportunity here to shape and inform the conversation that’s different from where I was at the beginning of my career,” Gayles acknowledged. “I would encourage those who are getting their education, going through that process right now, to not only be bold, but to not undersell yourself and your ability to contribute to that conversation. I think it’s a great opportunity for the younger generation to bring fresh, fresh energy, fresh faces, new perspectives and to ask those questions in a different way that will hopefully finally get us across the finish line to address these particular issues.”