[Opinion] The racism that exists within America’s healthcare system is disgraceful


Racial minorities experience a different side of the American healthcare system. Graphic by Hannah Kang

Anisah Steele, Opinion Editor

For years, people of color have faced systemic oppression in all its forms and have been forced into complacency due to the overbearing amount of discrimination in our current institutions. Racism and inequality can be found in almost every part of our system, especially in the healthcare system. 

According to a 2016 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, approximately 73% of white medical students held at least one biologically incorrect belief about differences between races. For example, some students either incorrectly believed Black people had thicker skin, stronger immune systems or less sensitive nerve endings.

While these notions are outdated and have since been debunked, the overwhelming amount of future healthcare providers who believe in these claims is unsettling. Sadly, despite the fact these claims have been disproven, they continue to affect the treatment of Black children and other minorities. 

For instance, a study conducted by the Frontiers in Pediatrics indicates that doctors in emergency departments are less likely to classify Black and Latinx children as requiring emergency care. In the same study it was found that those doctors are also less likely to order blood tests, CT scans or X-Rays for Black and Latinx children in comparison to white and Asian children. 

Despite the substantial amount of evidence that proves Black and Latinx people experience a different side of the American healthcare system, various studies suggest that Asian Americans face a similar level of discrimination and mistreatment.

According to a 2016 study conducted by the University of Hartford, doctors are less likely to diagnose Asian Americans as alcoholics despite the fact they exhibited the same symptoms as their white counterparts. This could be due to the “model minority” stereotype that characterizes Asians as the successful minorities who managed to overcome systemic oppression.

Collectively these findings are a result of implicit bias which is the unconscious application of certain qualities by an individual to a specific group of people.

Regardless, these disparities are disheartening and prove that there is a shocking amount of discrimination that permeates an institution built on providing equal care for all, especially in terms of treatment for patients with H.I.V./AIDS. 

In a study coordinated by the New England Journal of Medicine, it was discovered that Black patients were less likely to receive appropriate treatment for H.I.V. and were more likely to die from the illness. As a first world country that prides itself on having the best healthcare, one would think those a part of the institution would work hard to eliminate racial disparities. However, the individual case studies reflect the low quality treatment that patients of color receive and reveal the blatant racism that exists throughout our health system. 

In addition to receiving subpar treatment, Black patients, specifically Black mothers, are met with difficulty when receiving treatment during their pregnancy. Regarding a 2019 study directed by the National Institute of Health, Black women are three to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related causes. This could be a result of how Black women are dismissed when they describe their physical or emotional pain.

For example, tennis star Selena Williams experienced a pulmonary embolism after delivering her daughter in 2017. Williams stated that when she initially expressed her concerns regarding her health, medical professionals dismissed her. Williams’ experience is not the first nor last occurrence of healthcare professionals dismissing Black women’s pain.

There are a variety of factors that contribute to racism in the healthcare system aside from the painfully obvious. Health insurance, diet and other external factors influence a patient’s survival rate however, it is undeniable that there is a racial disparity in our healthcare system. Implicit bias affects how doctors treat their patients and their probability of surviving.

Regardless of personal prejudices, every physician should treat each patient with the same care and respect. Until that day comes, future healthcare workers must be made aware of their biases and trained accordingly.