Racism: The Deadliest Disease of Them All

How Implicit Bias is Affecting Our Healthcare

Isa Karathanos, Editorial Editor

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Every time I go to the doctor, I’m like, “Yo, Dr. Amy! Give me the stats! Red blood cells, amirite?” And then we chat about the weather and her baby niece and also my health. All in all, it’s a very pleasant experience–sometimes I even get a sticker out of it. 

 

Solin Douglas-Hill
Written by Isa Karathanos

But, unfortunately, not everyone feels so heard or cared for by medical professionals. A 2018 edition of Oprah Magazine lends a platform to a black woman named Whitney, who had a ridiculously hard time finding a doctor who would take her seriously. In her last trimester of pregnancy, Whitney experienced severe symptoms, and worried that she might have peripartum cardiomyopathy, a form of heart failure associated with pregnancy. But her doctors consistently dismissed her legitimate health concerns and one physician actually told her, “Seeing as you’re a female black, you probably have hypertension.” She didn’t have hypertension. In fact, when Whitney finally found a competent medical professional, he diagnosed her with peripartum cardiomyopathy. Now, while this woman’s experience was clearly insane, it was no freak occurrence, and many others don’t end the same way. Healthcare Discrimination is a widespread issue affects milions of minorities, and it is time that we addressed the racism that permeates America’s most vital service.

The lack of acceptable healthcare options for minorities has obvious repercussions. It leads to unnecessary pain, illness, and even death due solely to racial barriers. In 2017, the Baltimore City Health Department reported that black males had a life expectancy almost five years lower than white males, and black women lived three years less than white women, due in large part to the healthcare disparities between the racial groups. And this is especially harmful when minorities are already at a greater risk for multiple health issues. Because when 42% of black men have hypertension, 22% of Hispanic children have diabetes, and Native Americans have strikingly higher suicide rates than the rest of the population, we can’t afford to NOT be taken seriously.

Fortunately, we can work together to find solutions to this issue. For one, more specialized diversity training should be implemented for those pursuing a medical career. According to a 2019 article from the American Psychology Association, “Promising strategies include those aimed at getting physicians to see a patient as an individual rather than as a stereotyped member of a group.” 

In addition, Data USA reports that 70% of physicians and surgeons are white, with the remaining fraction consisting primarily of Asian doctors. So an obvious solution to the discrimination epidemic in health care is to make up a medical workforce that is more representative of the people it serves. Of course, this isn’t something we can immediately fix, but we can support organizations such as The Association of American Colleges, which promotes the education and careers of minority medical professionals, specifically African American, Latino, and Native American doctors. 

You know, I almost look forward to going to the doctor– I get out of school, maybe treat myself to a smoothie, really make a day of it. But, smoothies or not, we have to understand that for millions of Americans, a doctor is not a trusted expert, nor a hospital a place of healing. For Whitney, the only thing that brought her adequate care was her own alertness and research, but that shouldn’t have to be the case. Patients should never have to take life-saving matters into their own hands. They especially shouldn’t have to work ten times harder because of their race just to survive. There is no way this is the best we can do.