• Published on Aug 18, 2020

Video Transcript

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JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. We're six months plus into this virus. When is it all going to end? What have we done right? What have we done wrong?

To help answer some of these questions, I've asked my good friend Dr. Jen Caudle, who's an associate professor of medicine at Rowan University. Dr. Jen, thanks for joining me.

JENNIFER CAUDLE: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

JOHN WHYTE: Let's start off with you're on television quite a bit trying to educate folks about what we should be doing, what we shouldn't be doing. Why is it so hard to get good information out there?

JENNIFER CAUDLE: It is hard to get information out there. And I have to say, you're not only a friend, but you're a colleague. And I love how you're always on the airwaves, too, talking about the importance of not only good health, but health in this day and age of COVID. And I think one of the things that we likely share is this passion for getting good information out there.

You know, in this day and age, especially with COVID, but even before, talking about health couldn't be more important. And it's actually more important than ever because of I think the-- the amount, the vast amount of misinformation that's out there. We live in this day and age right now where, you know, a website, an email, all this is at our fingertips-- Dr. Google, you name it. And people can get information from so many different places.

But it's not necessarily vetted. It's not necessarily correct. Or it doesn't necessarily apply to their personal situation. So, you know, I really do feel as a-- as a physician, a practicing physician, and as someone who does go on TV, it's a passion. I feel like it's-- it's almost my-- my duty. And I feel-- I feel honored to be able to do that, because I think it's so important.

JOHN WHYTE: As a woman of color, you've been very interested in how do we address the issue of disparities. COVID-19 has certainly put it back in the limelight. Sadly, more and more people of color are dying of COVID-19. Do you think we're going to make progress in addressing racial disparities after this pandemic? Or do you think it's just going to be like it always is and we'll go back to, you know, having these differences in how long we live, often based on where one lives and the color of one's skin?

JENNIFER CAUDLE: Right. Well, I actually think we are starting to make progress. And this is encouraging to me, you know, as a Black woman. And, by the way, you know, something I want to say also about the TV work I do. You asked me first about going on television, why talking about health is important to me.

It's not lost on me that there are not many Black physicians on television, let alone Black female physicians. And it's-- not only is it an honor and it's a privilege and it's something that's important to me, but-- but-- but representation does matter. It mattered to me when I was a child, a little Black girl who-- I grew up in Iowa, to a med student trying to find my way in medicine, to even now as an attendant that's been in practice for 12 years.

So-- so I need to say that. And being a Black woman in this country is never lost on me. There's never a day or a moment or a second that goes by that I am not keenly and consciously aware of exactly who I am.

To your point about racial disparities and racial health disparities, it's a tragedy. It's a tragedy that's been in place and has existed for decades-- centuries, perhaps, I might add. But I do think we are literally in the midst of a racial reckoning, whether it was George-- George Floyd that sort of kicked things off, which, you know, God bless his soul. I think unfortunately, but fortunately, an outcome of that has sort of been this-- this awareness. Or-- or other things, even COVID-- we know that you African-Americans and people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID.

But I do see that there is positive change. As a society, we, I feel, are more-- more than ever willing to talk about real stuff, real racial stuff, not just talking about it in sort of a oh, you know, but like getting down to the nitty gritty, the systemic racism, the sort of institutionalized racism, and all sorts of things that have existed. This, to me, is very encouraging. This is what gives me hope.

Now we have a long ways to go. Don't get me wrong. But-- but I do think that we are on our way. And I am hopeful.

JOHN WHYTE: Has Black Lives Matter impacted your practice in terms of what patients are asking or what they're requesting of you? Has that trickled down yet into interaction with patients? JENNIFER CAUDLE: Well, I would argue that Black Lives Matter trickle down to my interactions with patients even before Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is-- is the term that we've given to this concept that even though we are all created equally, we're not all treated equally and we don't all have equal experiences in this country. And in particular, Black Lives Matter refers to that of African-Americans and our plight.

And so, you know, it's a concept that I'm glad has a name, because it's helped. I think it's helped a lot of people understand what we've been saying for a long time and what we've been feeling. But the truth is that's been my existence all along.

What I will say, though, is, you know, Black Lives Matter as sort of a movement in terms of the marches-- which happened after George Floyd predominately, right-- the marches, the protests, and this and that, that was a period-- and I would argue we're still in it to some degree-- but that certainly was a period of great unrest and instability. It was a period of fear and anger and frustration and sadness and disappointment and so many things. And what I would say about that time in particular was I had-- I talked more and more with my patients about how they were feeling.

And they would mention it to me, whether they were white or whether they were Black, and it didn't necessarily matter with race. Everybody was up in arms. Everybody was fearful, sad, angry, upset, confused, discouraged. You know, everybody felt that way.

So that was a common topic in the office, because it affected us all. We weren't sleeping maybe so well. I know I wasn't. I was tearful. Many of my patients were. Some people were angry and mad.

And-- and so naturally, these feelings come up as we talk about doctors' office visits, I know as you know, because it's a part of people's health and their psychological health and well-being. So it's a long winded answer, but-- but yes, Black Lives Matter has affected me globally with my patients, you know, over time, but also specifically with this period, I would say in June as we were going through that.

JOHN WHYTE: And one of the ways we address disparities or one of the solutions is to have more physicians of color-- Hispanic--

JENNIFER CAUDLE: Absolutely.

JOHN WHYTE: --African-American, you know, in medical school, doing residency, practicing medicine. And I want to hear a little more about your journey. You left out an important piece in your professional career. You were Miss Iowa as part of the Miss America Pageant. Tell us your journey, whether your role models-- what was your road to becoming a physician?

JENNIFER CAUDLE: Yeah, so thank you for asking that, because-- and then it's interesting you brought up the Miss America piece, and I'll mention that, because I have to say, that was a detour in my life, one that was not expected at all. But when I was growing up, I was born and raised in Iowa. And as we know, Iowa is not a predominantly, you know, multicultural or sort of diverse state, as we would think about it. But Iowa was an amazing place to grow up. But that's where my brother and I were born and raised.

But interestingly enough, even though it's not, say, very diverse, our family doctor was an African-American physician who was an osteopathic physician just like myself. His name was Dr. Johnson. God rest his soul. But he was amazing.

I mean, my brother had really bad asthma. Dr. Johnson would come over in the middle of the night with his doctor bag. And it's almost like he waved a wand and swung his stethoscope around and all of a sudden, poof, my brother was better. And he just seemed almost like a magician and like larger than life. He was a person early on who encouraged me to go into medicine, and also kind of sparked the interest in me, because I was fascinated with what he did.

And so he was someone, along with other mentors that I had along the way, that really, really helped keep me going. Because, as you know, no matter how smart you are in medicine-- yeah, there's always someone smarter-- but it's tough for everyone, no matter how smart you are. Going through medicine, whether it's residency or med school, et cetera, there are tough times for everyone. And I certainly needed encouragement, just like so many other people.

But very quickly, so I don't go on and on and on forever, but the Miss America thing you bring up-- so I went to Princeton for undergrad. And when I was at Princeton, my parents were teachers. And Princeton, that was before a lot of schools had robust financial aid packages. So I had some financial aid, but we really couldn't afford it.

And so I worked like four jobs at Princeton. I worked in the dining hall. I delivered newspapers. I worked in the music department. I did-- I played my cello for str-- wedding gigs, you name it.

But I remember I was home for Easter one year, my sophomore year in college. And I was at church. And a woman started telling us about the Miss America system. And I rolled my eyes, thinking, oh my gosh, you got to be kidding me, thinking that number one, I was not a beauty pageant contestant type. But number two, I thought of myself as, you know, you know, this-- this sort of-- I don't know, a non-pageant type.

Lo and behold, Miss America, at that time, at least, was the world's largest scholarship organization for women. I didn't know it. And when I found that out, it changed everything for me. I started competing.

My first pageant was at the age of 20. My last pageant was at the age of 21 and a half when I made it to Miss America. When you go to Miss America, you're done. But I made and earned a lot of scholarship money to help pay for college.

So I always say my path was winding. You never know where things end up. But yeah, I did have a lot of mentors along the way.

JOHN WHYTE: As I mentioned early on, you're on a lot of new shows giving good information. You know, I've talked about how hard it is to give good information in, you know, sound bytes. Tell us where your go-to sources are. I know WebMD is one of them.

JENNIFER CAUDLE: Yes, it is, of course.

JOHN WHYTE: But what other-- what other places do you go to?

JENNIFER CAUDLE: That's a really great question. So the first place I always go to is, especially now that we're in the midst of COVID, there's a lot of new research being published, right? So the first thing I go to is, especially if it's a new study, I go and find the study. I pull the study. I pull whatever I can.

And with COVID, especially with some of the like the clinical trials for vaccines and things like that, sometimes we don't have study data. All we have is, say, a press release or an abstract or a preprint version or something that has not been peer reviewed. But, you know, look, every day is different with COVID. You take what you can get. So that's always my first source is to try to go to the source.

But after that, WebMD is definitely up there and one of my favorites. I use a lot of the CDC and the World Health Organization, clearly, to find out what sort of formal guidelines are being made at this point. That's very important to me.

But then I also use sources, such as, as I'm sort of going down my list, things like medlineplus.gov. Really love that site, because it's like a clearinghouse for a lot of different references of places you can go and pull information. So that's one of my-- on of my top favorites as well.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, Dr. Jen Caudle, I want to thank you for providing insight today, as you do every other day on your Facebook page, your home page, across news outlets. And thank you for keeping us informed. And congratulations on your journey.

JENNIFER CAUDLE: Thank you.

JOHN WHYTE: And I want to thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.