In the United States, just 5 percent of active Physicians are Black and only 2 percent are Black women.
Research shows patient-provider racial and gender concordance has many benefits. A Black female patient receiving care from a Black female Doctor has more trust, better communication and shared medical decision-making. In addition, studies indicate that racial and ethnic minority Physicians are more likely to practice primary care and serve in underserved communities than their white counterparts.
Lacking diversity in the medical community has enormous consequences.
- Black women have the highest maternal mortality rates during pregnancy and postpartum and are more likely to suffer from pregnancy-related complications and death. Historically speaking, the obstetrics and gynecology field, in particular, is plagued with experimental surgeries done on enslaved Black women without anesthesia, contributing to a general distrust in providers among Black patients.
- The Black community is more likely to experience mental health disorders such as Major Depressive Disorder and less likely to receive treatment than other racial groups.
- Black people tend to have worse outcomes for health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.
- In general, Black patients have higher mortality rates from cancer than white counterparts and are less frequently offered more aggressive and potentially life-saving therapies.
“One of the possible consequences of a lack of African American providers is African Americans not seeking services because they’re unable to find someone who looks like them or who they feel they can connect with,” says Richelle Whittaker, L.S.S.P., L.P.C.-S., an educational psychologist at Providential Counseling & Consulting Services, PLLC.
“Historically, and arguably currently, the healthcare system is not always a trustworthy place for Black patients. And if you have a Doctor who you feel like you can’t effectively communicate with, that can erode trust, eroding, in turn, the opportunity for a Black patient to openly discuss their health and priorities, both critical elements of good care,” Nadine J. Barrett, Ph.D., director of the Office of Health Equity and Disparities at the Duke Cancer Institute, said.
Systemic change is not easy but it starts with the individual. Create support groups within your organization and mentorship programs within your communities. Share your stories at your local elementary and high schools; encourage young girls to pursue science and math.
Health systems should have diversity at all levels of the system, making sure there’s diversity training and other structures in place to address racial issues.