Does Racial Bias in the Medical Community Affect Me?

These days it is hard not to notice how race and ethnicity affect the minutiae’s of life. There is
obviously a huge discussion going on in this country about race relations and law enforcement. Intersectional feminism is becoming a more prominent discussion. And as a person of color, the current political climate is unnerving.

Well, as it turns out the medical system is not free from the problem of racial profiling. Hopefully
this comes to no one’s surprise since it’s been proven over and over again that people in our country have inherent racial biases and since medical professionals are human, they, too, can only be expected to have the same flaw.

As it turns out, research has found that minorities are less likely to be prescribed opioids for pain. This is actually not new news. However, a new study was published two months ago that accounted for both drugs given to patients in emergency departments as well as prescriptions handed out at the end of an emergency department visit. It found that blacks were approximately half as likely as whites to be prescribed opioid pain medication in emergency departments for back and abdominal pain. Yeah, half as likely. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know the color of my skin determined the amount of pain I was in.

Now, I myself have been prescribed opioids in an emergency department for a then-unidentified condition. As it turns out I have had adverse reactions to at least three different opioid-based medications and don’t plan on finding out if I have more, but I can tell you that they definitely help with pain. That’s not really what this is about though; opioids are only one class of pain medication
that can be more easily studied in specific scenarios. But how do I know that any mistreatment or doubt I have received by a doctor is not because of the color of my skin; that they are less likely to believe me or trust what I’m saying?

There are many cases where a person has been bounced from doctor to doctor feeling like they aren’t being believed or being given vague diagnoses. And I think it could be because of age, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, weight, religion, or ethnicity (and basically anything else that can lead to discrimination). I’m well aware that this is not the case with many doctors — I’m not here to say, “All doctors are awful and we should boycott them.” I truly appreciate the ones who have helped me get through and deal with my many chronic illnesses. I’m also not saying that race shouldn’t be a factor in anything, because one’s ethnicity can imply higher likelihoods of having certain illnesses. And I know doctors are there to diagnose and help treat us and that is a very hard job that takes years of training; they are not just there to give us the best bedside manner (though actually being better at that can’t hurt).

But this is more than just bedside manner, especially when it affects how someone is being medically treated. So instead of just dealing with the system, shouldn’t we be advocating for more social training for doctors so that those inherent biases are a little less influential?

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