Overcoming Racism in Healthcare

Jul 14, 2023

Compass with needle pointing the word leadership with blur effect plus blue and black tones.

In an era where diversity and inclusivity are championed, it is disheartening to acknowledge that racism continues to persist in many, if not most, industries, including healthcare. Black doctors and other healthcare providers, who dedicate their lives to providing compassionate care and expertise, often face the harsh sting of racial bias. An unfortunate reality is that some patients express preferences for healthcare providers based on race, including instances where patients have explicitly stated their reluctance to be treated by Black doctors, nurses and other caregivers. This has far-reaching consequences for providers, patients and the overall healthcare system. Spectrum Health took a close, personal look at this matter in their video entitled “Black health care professionals experience racism,” which generated many thoughts for us here at SunShower Learning.

Understanding patient preferences

It is crucial to recognize that patient preferences in healthcare are complex and influenced by various factors. Some patients may harbor deep-rooted prejudices, often unconsciously shaped by historical, social and media influences. The preference for a specific race of healthcare provider can stem from preconceived notions about competence, communication styles or personal comfort levels. Other patients may be influenced by personal experiences, cultural backgrounds, religion and societal biases. Nevertheless, racism against Black healthcare professionals undermines the principles of equity, compassion and quality care that the healthcare industry strives to uphold, and it must be addressed.

Key impacts of biased behavior and racism on healthcare providers

Biases against Black healthcare professionals can manifest as inaccurate conclusions about their competence, unfair evaluations, exclusion from important discussions or limited opportunities for professional growth. In the face of such circumstances, a provider’s confidence, professional credibility and overall job satisfaction often erode. In the long run, constant exposure to racism takes a significant toll on the mental and physical health of Black healthcare professionals. Experiencing microaggressions, discriminatory comments and systemic bias at work (on top of the racial trauma that Black people are faced with in their lives overall) leads to increased stress, burnout and decreased job satisfaction. This can negatively impact well-being and the ability to provide the best care for patients.

Consequences for patient care

Despite the racism to which they may be subjected, healthcare professionals must act in the best interest of their patients. Moreover, it is essential to respect patient autonomy and preferences to the extent possible. It’s a lot to contend with, and healthcare providers must navigate these situations delicately without compromising the quality of care. However, if patients resist or even refuse care from certain providers, then positive outcomes are certainly at risk. Patients are deprived of the opportunity to benefit from providers’ expertise and cultural awareness and understanding. As we saw in Spectrum’s video, some patients even consider refusing life-saving operations if the surgeon is Black. “Racial concordance,” as it’s called, is such an important factor for these patients that they will even put their own lives at risk to avoid being treated by someone who’s Black.

In the words of Lisette Martinez, Executive Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity & Community Engagement at Thomas Jefferson University & Jefferson Health: “All members of the clinical care team have the same skills. We do not tolerate discrimination against any of our Black clinicians. We communicate this to patients who request racial concordance or become pejorative to our staff in their language. Whether it is happening to us or our colleagues we must speak up and say ‘NO. Not here.’ Speaking up to protect ourselves and each other is where we can begin to eliminate the explicit discrimination that continues to show its face.”

Dismantling racism in healthcare

Racism against Black healthcare providers is a deeply rooted problem that demands urgent attention and collective action. It is our responsibility as a society to dismantle systemic barriers, challenge biases and support Black healthcare providers. Only then can we foster a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system for the betterment of both healthcare professionals and the patients they serve.

Learn more with DEI LEAP, a new course from SunShower Learning

Learn more about healthcare diversity, equity and inclusion by taking SunShower Learning’s new course: DEI Leap. It was developed in partnership with Lisette Martinez, and it will launch in September of 2023.

More From Our Blog…

“Laying Low” Is the Wrong DEI Strategy

“Laying Low” Is the Wrong DEI Strategy

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”- Martin Luther King, Jr. In an era marred by politicized attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Shaun...

read more
Painful Stories: Unconscious Bias in Health Care

Painful Stories: Unconscious Bias in Health Care

Many Black women express a sense of being ignored or dismissed by healthcare professionals. The repercussions of such experiences can be life-threatening for both mothers and babies. The New York Times has published a new article that takes a closer look at this...

read more
Navigating Thanksgiving – Speak Up or Stay Silent?

Navigating Thanksgiving – Speak Up or Stay Silent?

Tis the day before Thanksgiving and all through the land, people are anxious. Amidst the joy of the holiday—cherishing togetherness, celebrating with family and friends, and expressing gratitude— there's a potential for discomfort as opinions are shared and points of...

read more
Confronting the Backlash: The DEI Imperative 

Confronting the Backlash: The DEI Imperative 

  “Three short years after their collective response to massive protests over the police murder of George Floyd, companies are reneging on their diversity pledges." In their recent MIT Sloan Review article titled "Countering the Corporate Diversity Backlash,"...

read more
Announcing the New SunShower App

Announcing the New SunShower App

After months of development, the new SunShower Learning learner app is now ready for prime time. Access a free download here:iTunes App StoreGoogle Play Store When you purchase a license for one or more of our award-winning eLearning courses and opt for delivery...

read more