The Need for Diversity in Healthcare
Numerous statistics emerging from the 2000’s until now have highlighted the many disparities that minorities face within the healthcare field, both as patients and providers. Members of minority groups are often subject to discrimination based on their underrepresented backgrounds. Moreover, many minority patients have expressed feeling uncomfortable with providers due to a provider’s lack of understanding of the patient’s background. Usually, this results in patients not receiving the best possible care available.
A 2016 study carried out by researchers at the University of Virginia has shown that medical students of different years hold misinformed beliefs about bodily differences between black and white patients . As a result, black patients do not receive the same treatment and are undertreated for pain in comparison to their white counterparts. The study also shows that black children are no strangers to this treatment by healthcare providers. Beliefs about the differences between black and white bodies stem from a long history of oppression by scientists, physicians and slave owners. An example of unethical research carried out on black bodies includes the Tuskegee syphilis study which lasted for forty years .
Important to note is the lack of medical professionals from minority backgrounds. A 2008 study shows that blacks and Hispanics make up approximately one third of the U.S. population, and yet they only constitute 15 percent of medical students and 8.7 percent of physicians . Moreover, studies have shown that patients of minority backgrounds tend to prefer medical professionals of similar backgrounds due to the fact that minority groups believe their doctors care more about their white counterparts. In a New York Times piece written by Dr. Damon Tweedy, he states “when I have been particularly successful at treating black patients, it has often had less to do with any particular talent on my part than with my patients’ willingness to bring up the racial concerns that troubled them” .
A survey interested in bias in the field of healthcare revealed that about 65 percent of medical students preferred patients of similar backgrounds . Participants who did not trust that health disparities are an issue in the United States and believed that their biases would not affect their future clinical practice in fact had more biases than their counterparts. Additionally, results showed that said students were also not as inclined to report biases they had witnessed during clinical rotations. While these statistics are frightening, it is crucial that healthcare professionals are trained to become aware of these tendencies in order to begin addressing the issue and find a way towards equal healthcare treatment for all patients.
In order to create a more accepting atmosphere we must address disparities and biases that are all too familiar in the healthcare field. Simply admitting more students of minority backgrounds will not solve the issue at hand. Instead, continuing to change and adapt medical education will allow future providers to develop structural competency, as well as become more aware of one’s own biases towards patients of different backgrounds.
1. Kelly M. Hoffman, “Racial Bias in Pain Assessment and Treatment Recommendations, and False Beliefs About Biological Differences Between Blacks and Whites”, PNAS, April 19 2016.
2. Damon Tweedy, “The Case for Black Doctors”, The New York Times, May 15 2015.
3. Veritas Prep, “Minorities Still Do Not Feel Completely Comfortable in Medicine”, U.S. News, May 7 2012.
4. Cristina M. Gonzalez, “Implicit Bias and Its Relation to Health Disparities: A Teaching Program and Survey of Medical Students”, Taylor and Francis Online, January 9 2014.