Institutionalized Racism in the Medical Field

Savannah Grier, Age 17

July 13, 2021

In recent months there has been enlightenment and awakening of injustice on the prevalence of racism in this country.  The recent protests in this country have been an eye-opener for many.  Unfortunately, it had to take the death of George Floyd, for the community to finally stand up and shout “Enough is Enough!” In the past, as an Afro-Latina, I never gave these issues much thought but now that I am older, I have become more aware of the injustices towards people of color.  We live in a country that has embedded institutional racism in its culture. People of color continue to be discriminated against in areas of housing, voting, criminal justice, food insecurity, health care, and many other issues. This is the time to hold our system accountable. An area I want to focus on is racial discrimination in the health care system for people who have experienced and continue to experience low-quality health care. 


The healthcare system has failed the Black community for many years. Due to unconscious racial bias, people of color have been victims of this injustice for hundreds of years. Now is the time to address it. Medical racism has been a thing for a really long time and some examples of this are in the history of gynecology, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and so many more untold stories. I am here to share some of this institution's treatment that continues to hurt our people due to the medical profession's difficulty with cultural diversity. We are in times where we need to hold every position of power accountable for the mistreatment of Black people. 


 Black maternal deaths and infant mortality is a great example of racism in the healthcare system. Black mothers are subject to less empathy and understanding than their white counterparts. Often seen as strong and resilient, Black mothers often feel more pain and complications during childbirth. The effects of generational racism can be passed down in the womb which can lead to biological effects in the infant. This has led to a higher mortality rate for both their children and themselves. We all know the story of Serena Williams and the complications she faced that almost led to her death. Black motherhood should be treated equally and with the same understanding as white mothers. The lack of communication and listening from health care providers can be deadly for a Black mother. 


Another issue in the healthcare system is priorities. Countless studies have shown that white lives are prioritized over Black. Studies show that white women are more likely to develop breast cancer than Black, but Black women are forty percent more likely to die from it. This is not the only case where white lives are prioritized over Black lives. This is a common trend in any deadly disease and affects our brothers and sisters alike. Today, Black people (and people of color in general) are dying from Covid-19 more than white people. This is because they risk exposure since the majority of essential workers are people of color. 


We also need to address the lack of representation in the healthcare system. Based on a study, there are high rates of mental illness in the Black community. What’s even more concerning is that there are more Black women with mental health issues than men. Who do they talk to? How can they possibly connect with physicians who don’t face the same societal barriers they do? Black patients treated by Black doctors are more likely to receive subsequent treatment, highlighting the role of race in access to optimal care. This lack of representation isn’t only in the mental health field but in every field. We need more Black physicians. Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population but only 4% of doctors. No one knows how this disparity started, but one indicator could be from another racist institution: schools. Black kids are not given the tools and support to dream for these types of fields. 


There is so much more to cover on this issue. The healthcare system is an institution built from years of violence against Black bodies. The lack of cultural understanding and unconscious biases have made Black people victims of unfair treatment compared with their white counterparts. This ideology within this institution has yet to shift after all these years. Black people are still having the same issues today. So, I ask whose lives are medical officials really saving? 



Books to read that are about medical racism:

Forty Years of Medical Racism: The Tuskegee Experiments by Michael Uschan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 

Medical Bondage by Deirdre Cooper Ownes

The Health Gap by Michael Marmot



Sources: 

We Want More To Do More Than Survive by Bettina Love

How Our Healthcare System Treats Black Mothers Differently by Shanoor Seervai

www.racialequitytools.org

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid19-racial-disparities