WMed Common Read 2022 explores one African American physician’s fight against systemic racism in the emergency room

The Beauty in Breaking
The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper.

A Harvard-educated African American emergency medicine physician working in a profession that is predominantly male and white explores how she fought against systemic racism and healed herself in this year’s Common Read selection.

The ninth-annual Common Read, a program that provides a shared learning experience, will be held Wednesday, September 21, at 6:00 p.m. on Microsoft Teams. Common Read is open to enrolled students, employed faculty and staff, WMed alumni, and health practitioners employed at Kalamazoo’s teaching hospitals.

This year’s selection is "The Beauty in Breaking" by Michele Harper, MD. Dr. Harper shares in her 227-page memoir how she learned to become an effective emergency room physician and how she has brought insight and empathy to her patient encounters. She has realized everyone is broken – physically, emotionally, psychically – and said how we recognize those breaks and try to mend them is crucial to healing.

“The Beauty in Breaking is the poignant true story of Harper’s journey toward self-healing,” her book excerpt reads. “Each of the patients Harper writes about taught her something important about recuperation and recovery. How to let go of fear even when the future is murky: How to tell the truth when it’s simpler to overlook it. How to understand that compassion isn’t the same as justice. As she shines a light on the systemic disenfranchisement of the patients she treats as they struggle to maintain their health and dignity, Harper comes to understand the importance of allowing ourselves to make peace with the past as we draw support from the present.”

This year’s selection was brought forward last year by Cheryl Dickson, MD, MPH, the medical school’s associate dean for Health Equity and Chief Diversity Officer, M4 Amy Lorber, and Class of 2022 alumna Melissa Pellman, said Liz Lorbeer, leader of the event and chair and professor in the Department of Medical Library.

Dr. Harper’s book centers on the themes that are currently being discussed among the WMed community – community health, diversity, equity and inclusion.

“She talks about often being the only person of color, and she talks about systemic racism from people she works with, people who report to her and the patients she treats,” Lorbeer said. “We don’t have enough representation of people of color in medicine, and when we do, they often struggle. I think this is a really good story to put forward and a good teachable moment for our students. Systematic racism exists and as she says, it’s going to take many years to solve.”

Dr. Harper will join WMed for a virtual hourlong fireside chat, starting with a 20-minute author talk and leaving time for dialogue between the author and attendees.