In the midst of this unpredictable and disastrous year, COVID-19 has forced healthcare workers to put their lives on the line, working rigorous days and nights to ensure the health and safety of their patients.
The world thrives when good people are at the helm of healing those who are sick, but why are some patients being treated differently?
A recent study by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that Black patients in the emergency department who had pain were treated less aggressively than white patients.
People of color have faced judgement and discrimination from the front desk, nurses and physicians when trying to receive care, which can lead to deadly consequences.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, data recorded from May to August revealed that Black people accounted for 18.7% of COVID-19 deaths despite being disproportionately represented as 12.5% of the population.
The inadequate health care services for Black Americans stem from misperceptions and stereotypes, not the reality of their circumstances. Oftentimes minorities feel that health care providers treat them differently and assume that they are less educated, poor or undeserving of respect because of their race or culture.
These preconceptions are careless and blatantly unfair. With the health of millions of Americans at risk, this is the time when equal and sufficient treatment is needed more than ever.
According to a 2018 study from the Association of American Medical Colleges, among the active physicians 56.2% identified as white, 17.1% identified as Asian, 13.7% identified as unknown, 5.8% identified as Hispanic and 5.0% identified as Black or African American.
Financial constraints, lack of medicinal knowledge, lack of encouragement at home or in school, lack of African-American role models in the community and on TV among other factors are immense barriers to becoming a physician.
With a U.S. population of over 330 million, it’s astounding to live in a country full of diverse people and Black people only make up 5% of American physicians.
Former Stanford Medicine fellow Lauren Smith, M.D. gave insight as to why there is a lack of diversity among the healthcare industry with not as many African American doctors.
“White kids are exposed to a plethora of things they can grow up to be. Black kids aren’t always afforded the same opportunities. We need to develop more pipeline programs to show our kids the range of things they can do and become,” Smith said.
Living in a community where you are not granted the same opportunities as your white counterparts is a part of life for a lot of Black families. However, that does not mean they are incapable of higher education, good jobs and affordable health care.
“I do think that admissions processes and metrics typically disadvantage applicants from historically excluded medicine groups (specifically Black, Latino, Native),” Smith said.
The politics within employment operations for people of color, specifically from the health care industry, pose a major barrier for those who aim higher than what society expects of them because of their race and background.
While going to the doctor is enough of a hassle as is, the worry of poor medical care due to one’s skin color is something only minorities could ever understand. Because of this, many patients of color who want satisfactory treatment must undergo an extensive search for an unprejudiced physician, while Black physicians may face the same problems.
Monica Mitchell, a nurse manager from Roads Community Care Clinic, provided her perspective on discrimination in health care.
“It has a lot to do with culture and bias. A lot of people feel and believe that Blacks are not smart enough to become doctors, so they don’t trust their judgment. Language barrier is another factor. Most patients want a doctor, provider or nurse who they can speak their language with and share cultural similarities,” Mitchell said.
The amount of work and time it takes to become a doctor or a nurse is no easy task, and to have your education questioned by patients who think less of you, proves that there is a lot of progress to be made.
The nation’s doctor shortage may decrease even more in the next 15 years as the ranks of Black and Hispanic doctors will become less representative of the nation’s diversity, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The only way the health care system will be beneficial for every patient and healthcare worker is to make changes for the greater good.
As Smith put it, there needs to be greater medical and resident education to dismantle the racially biased system that negatively affects patients. There also needs to be a push for more Black, Latinx and Native American doctors treating patients, along with more culturally competent care.
If doctors remove bias and treat all patients equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and background, there will be an improved quality of care that people receive.
Patient care should be the same, no matter what their signs, symptoms or race is. At some point, the healthcare industry needs to change and people of color should not be forced to prove themselves to be respected and treated equally.