Neil J. Smith

Racism in Health Care: A Brief Look

“And how is Dakota?”

“Dying,” Percival said, with a melancholy air.

“What’s that suppose to mean?” Morty exclaimed with a searching glance.

“Just that!”

“No! Dying from what? How? Why?”

“From dehydration,” Percival answered, seemingly distracted.

“Seems some racist intern

misdiagnosed her yesterday ‘n now it’s too late to save her.”—On the Ropes, page 149

Racism comes in several forms. One of them is structural racism which continues to be an obstacle for many African Americans in the United States. This instance is especially true in the healthcare industry.

According to the World Economic Forum, Black or Latino Americans are more likely to die from Covid-19 than other groups.

Surprising? Not really. In the physician workforce, only four percent identify as Black or African-American, narrowing the chances of black Americans receiving adequate care.

A Brief History of Medical Racism

Throughout history, medical racism has affected the system by mistreating Black people. One prevailing myth is that Black people have different, i.e., “inferior” bodies, which affects the accuracy of diagnosis and quality of treatment.

As a result of this myth, a series of unethical studies and treatments follow. Some of these include:

  • One key example of unethical experiments on Black people during slavery is J. Marion Sims’ experiments on enslaved women by conducting operations without giving the women any anesthesia. His rationale? He believed the procedures weren’t painful enough to justify it;
  • The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. A study where poor Black people with syphilis were not treated with penicillin, nor were they informed that there was already a standard treatment available for the disease; and much more.
  • The harvesting and cloning of Henrietta Lacks cells without her knowledge and consent;

Current Medical Racism in the Workplace

In the era of Covid-19, racial discrimination plays an insidious role in health care. Aside from Blacks and Latinos receiving less than adequate care because of misdiagnosis of symptoms, POC healthcare workers also have their unique struggles.

According to the Rutgers School of Nursing Research, nonwhites are suffering disproportionately from emotional distress exacerbated by Covid-19 panic and reactions to workplace racism. Other conclusions of the study include the following:

  • Black nurses report the most hostile work climates;
  • There is a higher percentage of nonwhite nurses (61%) who were worried about COVID compared to white nurses (41%) who were also concerned;
  • Black nurses experienced a high number of racial microaggressions in comparison to other racial groups;

With the pandemic not ending anytime soon, it’s safe to say that the virus isn’t the only thing we need to eradicate. We must look past these biases if we want to ensure the well-being of our population.

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