The Hip Hop Doc has a message for young people.
"Know your doctor."
"Know your numbers."
"Know your family history."
That's not a rap lyric, although Rani G. Whitfield - a.k.a. "The Hip Hop Doc" - is an old-school rap fan who uses contemporary music to connect with young African-Americans and other minorities who need to hear his message.
In just a few years, Whitfield - who has a private practice in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. - has made a national reputation traveling the country and appearing on cable television networks like CNN and BET, syndicated programs like the Chuck D radio show and Internet sites like AOL Black Voices, offering commentary and advice about personal health.
Whitfield was in Milwaukee over the weekend to speak at a training session for staff members of Milwaukee Health Services Inc., a community health clinic that operates from two main sites, the MLK Heritage Health Clinic and the Isaac Coggs Heritage Health Clinic. Milwaukee Health Services also operates a convenient care clinic at 4061 N. 54th St.
Whitfield, 41, is a graduate of Nashville's Meharry Medical College who has been spotlighted by his numerous media appearances and his advocacy work in his hometown. The "Hip Hop Doc" moniker came after he started finding success working with young people during his stint as a physical trainer for high school sports teams. Many players were hip-hop music fans, and Whitfield attained a measure of street cred by his familiarity with rappers from another era.
"The kids were really excited when I was able to drop some old-school Kurtis Blow on them," he said during an interview. "That led to a lot of young people getting interested in the message I was bringing."
That message dealt with general advice about maintaining good health, always a difficult thing for young people to connect with, seeing how it's hard for teens and 20-somethings to think about their own mortality.
Whitfield said he has been able to send a positive message about things such as HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse and the need to maintain a healthy diet by connecting with young people in a contemporary way. He has created a comic book series about a group of superheroes called "The Legion of Health" who introduce healthy messages as they protect society from a group of villains called "The Dungeon of Disease."
He also has worked on a CD music project - hip-hop, of course - and contributing essays to several books while working on a book of his own.
With so many health-related issues in the news, Whitfield has been in demand by cable TV and radio shows that want to spotlight his hip approach. He thinks the reason he's popular is because he remains a working physician and not just a media talking head.
"I see patients every day when I'm in Baton Rouge," he said.
He considers the Hip Hop Doc as a kind of alter ego that helps him educate others.
"The problem with some doctors is we don't always get outside the box," he noted.
His views on the recent health care bill passage are tied to current situations in his hometown. Baton Rouge is located in one of the poorest states in the nation. The state also has some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS along with other negative health factors for low-income people.
In his mind, the health care bill wasn't really health reform. "It was actually health insurance reform," said Whitfield, who was disappointed when the single-payer option was discarded by Democrats in Congress.
Although Whitfield thinks the bill was watered down, he was still in favor of it.
"In my state, as a direct result of the health care bill, more than 406,000 people will get health insurance," he said. "That's a good thing."
As an African-American physician, Whitfield sounds the usual danger signals for blacks in terms of personal health.
Heart attacks, cancer and strokes, he said, can be attributed to the same ills: "It's poor diet and lack of exercise. Black men don't see the doctor enough, and some black women are so nurturing, they worry about everyone else's health but their own."
Whitfield's message is important to everyone, not just African-Americans and not just members of the hip-hop generation. By using his interest in music to connect with young people, he's building a name for himself as a new voice advocating better health for everyone.
Whether it's comic books, hip-hop music, cable television or radio appearances, as long as the message gets through, the Hip Hop Doc seems to be hitting all the right notes.
By: Dr. Rani Whitfield
Article in JSOnline