It’s no secret that Black people, specifically women, have received the short end of the stick when it comes to medical care and treatment for years. Too often, we hear the horror stories of childbirth deaths, cancer misdiagnoses, nursing home negligence, and the list goes on. The common denominator in these stories is, more often than not, Black women as the victim. Why is this the case? Why aren’t Black women adequately cared for in the medical world?

Let’s explore what is known as medical racism. 

By definition, medical racism is the systemic prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against people of color within the medical system based on their skin color. Medical racism is multifaceted in that it groups together the principles of everyday racism faced in society and health care factors such as lack of access to insurance coverage. This type of racism isn’t new – it’s deeply rooted in our society’s various structures, from healthcare treatments to aspiring healthcare workers’ opportunities. 

It Starts Outside of the Healthcare Facility 

An added layer to medical racism is that it begins before the patient even walks through the door for a routine checkup, follow up appointment, emergency visit, etc. Because of the racism in society, Black women are not always afforded the same access to proper living conditions and wages. This leads to lifestyles that tend to be unhealthier than other population groups. From environmental to economic factors, Black women are more likely to develop unhealthy ways of living just to survive. 

Black neighborhoods are usually placed in areas that are more prone to pollution, are farther from quality resources, and lack proper care that promotes a healthy lifestyle. Many are located in unsafe areas where daily outdoor exercise is not a possibility. There is also the stress that comes with dealing with daily racism and fewer resources. Stress has its own set of issues that the body can face if it’s not managed well. It is known that disparities in health outcomes, such as heart disease mortality rates among Blacks, have widened over time. With these dynamics in mind, it is clear that Black women have a higher risk of illnesses and disorders than other women. 

Debunking the Narrative About Black Pain 

Have you ever been told that Black women do not feel as much pain as White women? It is a common and outdated misconception that Black bodies can take a lot more physically than any other race. Unfortunately, many healthcare providers operate with this same bias when dealing with patients. Because of this, Black women have been expected to bear more and left to suffer. Many Black women have reported visits to the ER or doctor’s office where they were turned around due to doctors not believing the level of pain they were in. Black women are often told their symptoms are not what they think they are and are left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Many have then developed life-threatening cancers and other diseases because of the neglect they have faced. 

The truth is, whether or not Black women’s bodies are developed differently, they should be treated equally when it comes to examinations and receiving care. Whether someone feels more pain or not should never be up to the doctor to decide. The patient should still receive the best level of care offered to ensure they live a healed and healthy life. 

Healthcare Coverage and Access

Although there have been enhancements in population health over time, many disparities have persisted and even widened in some cases. People of color and those with low incomes have generally faced more barriers to accessing care. This includes a higher uninsured rate compared to Whites and those making higher incomes. 

The Black community is also less likely to receive healthcare coverage from a private employer, even despite their spouse having insurance. They are more likely to depend on a public source of health insurance when compared to White people. Historically, Medicaid has been a federal and state resource for those who are of the poverty level. However, through the years, Medicaid has expanded its resources and qualifications for Medicaid services but has not expanded its resources to help those of the working poor. 

These limitations have created a significant economic impact on the Black community. Medicare coverage does not include prescription drugs and dental or long-term care. Those living in lower-income households are mostly burdened by the out-of-pocket costs, such as the annual deductible required for some care and copayments. Data shows that Black adults have higher rates of poverty than their white counterparts. 

Lack of Representation 

While women in the U.S. make up 50.7% of medical school enrollees, there isn’t a large number of those who become Black women doctors. According to athenahealth, Black Americans make up only 4% of the physician workforce, comprised of 877,000+ active physicians. Of that population, only 2% are Black female doctors. Keeping this data in mind, Black Americans make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, as reported by the U.S. Census. Black women aspiring to become doctors face the same systemic racism as previously mentioned, which is evident in their levels of income, education, housing, and other factors. Because of these barriers, our country does not see as many Black women doctors enter into and graduate from medical school as their White counterparts. 

In other words, Black women lack representation in the medical field. Black women having access to doctors who look like them builds trust and creates a better, authentic, and transparent communication channel. 

Is There a Solution?

Black women have been victims of medical racism for years, causing many to lose their hope, dreams, and even lives. Healthcare facilities and medical colleges must open the door for a more diverse workplace and study environment, ensuring that Black women, as well as all minorities, are well-represented in the medical field. Training and retaining a diverse population of healthcare providers not only allows the medical world to thrive, but it will allow patients to live healthier lives. 

Physicians must also call out and control their own biases. Through identifying the problem, educating themselves on the solution, and committing to providing quality care for all, more Black women will have a chance to live healthy, healed, and happy.