Class of 2020 – Common Reading

 Common Reading 2018

Mama Might Be Better Off Dead

The Failure of Health Care in Urban America

By: Laurie Kaye Abraham

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What is a Common Reading Program?

The Common Reading Program is a shared learning experience for all incoming students in the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. The purpose of this program is to stimulate meaningful conversations about the professions that you are entering while learning about all possibilities to make a difference.  This interprofessional educational (IPE) opportunity will provide your cohort with a shared learning experience about the fields of public health, health administration and leadership.

Common Reading Book for 2018

This year’s selection is Mama Might Be Better Off Dead by Laurie Kaye AbrahamMama Might Be Better Off Dead is an unsettling, profound look at the human face of health care. Both disturbing and illuminating, it immerses readers in the lives of four generations of a poor, African-American family beset with the devastating illnesses that are ll too common in America’s inner-cities.

The story takes place in North Lawndale, a neighborhood that lies in the shadows of Chicago’s Loop. Although surrounded by some of the city’s finest medical facilities, North Lawndale is one of the sickest, most medically underserved communities in the country. Headed by Jackie Banes, who oversees the care of a diabetic grandmother, a husband on kidney dialysis, an ailing father, and three children, the Banes family contends with countless medical crises. From visits to the emergency rooms and dialysis units, to trials with home care, to struggles for Medicaid eligibility, Abraham chronicles their access (or lack of access) to medical care.

Told sympathetically but without sentimentality, their story reveals an inadequate health care system that is further undermined by the direct and indirect effects of poverty. When people are poor, they become sick easily. When people are sick, their families quickly become poorer.

Abraham deftly weaves these themes together to make a persuasive case for health care reform while unflinchingly presenting the complexities that will make true reform as difficult as it is necessary. Mama Might Be Better Off Dead is a book with the power to change the way health care is understood in America. For those seeking to learn what our current system of health care promises and what it delivers, it offers a place for the debate to begin.

Common Reading Discussion

  • All new SPH students will participate in an interactive discussion about the book during the first IPE activity.
  • Purchase your own copy of the book- Mama Might Be Better Off Dead and read it by August 29th.   Abraham, L. (1993). Mama Might Be Better Off Dead: The Failure of Health Care in Urban America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
    ISBN-10 0226001393 and ISBN-13: 978-0226001395


Questions about the Program?

Contact Dr. Marcy L. Paul at or Dr. Karen Bell at

This page was last modified on May 24, 2018