In virtually every area of medicine, we as Blacks have the worst outcome.
As a young Black doctor starting out in medicine I was offended in the way healthcare was given to Black patients. The statistics about Black patients outcomes that made me upset then are largely the same today. The infant mortality rate is twice among Blacks than that of whites. Black men are more likely than white men to receive a diagnosis of HIV and more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer. Black women have many health challenges including obesity and also breast, colon, bladder and thyroid cancer. And, Black patients have experienced much higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and stroke. The list goes on and on and on.
The usual response for these healthcare disparities are poverty, racism, education and unhealthy choices. I agree that these usual responses to address healthcare reform are valid reasons. But a factor less obvious is the heart and soul of Black doctors. Only five percent of practicing doctors in this country are Black.
As a general rule, Black patients are more comfortable with Black doctors taking care of them. Black patients are more likely to seek treatment and report higher satisfaction with their care.
As an OB/GYN Doctor, I have seen this up close and in person. I have frequently been the only Black doctor on most hospital’s staff even in a hospital with a large Black patient population. Quite often, patients are asking to see a Black doctor, but I cannot see the sheer volume of people and cannot recruit or find other Black doctors in our present healthcare system.
Black patients, compared to most races, tend to be far less trusting of doctors and their medical adviser. Much is these distrust is deeply rooted in our dark history of experimentation on Black people such as the Tuskegee Syphilis study.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence that Black patients are more likely to trust Black doctors comes from the mental health field and women wellness, where a patient’s relationship with his or her provider is very important.
Clearly, we need more Black doctors, even though the medical school enrollment is improving with a slight increase of 2.2 percent of the overall total medical student enrollment. Although most states have banned race-based admission efforts at public universities and affirmative action is dying but not dead, but it appears to be approaching its twilight years.
Now, of course, Black doctors are not the only physicians who can deliver good medical care to Black patients, and believe it or not, every Black doctor is not a good doctor or a good doctor for you. So, as a Black doctor, my particular talent on my part is my willingness to bring up the racial concerns that troubled them – based on TRUST.
Only after years of experience and learning from my failed attempts have I been able to consistently do the right thing with my knowledge of healthcare. So now I can take my experience into the exam room, the hospital and into the community. Patients ultimately, still have to take responsibility for their own lives, it is helpful to have a doctor who understand, and don’t dismiss behavior patterns that are often rooted in a cultural history.
In an ideal world, the race of the patient or physician wouldn’t matter; we would all treat each other strictly as individuals. But we as a country are still quite a ways from reaching that exalted goal. We have to attack the problem of racial health disparities from every angle. Black doctors are an important part of the mission.