It may be rather surprising for some to hear that the field of medicine is still riddled with issues of racism. Unfortunately, issues related to race still prevail both for people of color working within the medical system and for those seeking treatment by healthcare professionals. Although there have been a few steps taken to address the issue, it has not been enough.
Childbirth and maternity care is perhaps the most profound area of the medical field in which racism is a significant issue. Time after time, mothers of color have been ignored or treated with less professional care than white mothers. This has led to substantially greater risk of prenatal and childbirth issues for those communities in the American healthcare system.
Racial disparities have long existed in the healthcare system. Studies have long found that non-white people are less likely to receive treatment for medical conditions and that, when they do, it is more likely to be lower quality care. There are numerous reasons for this ranging from socioeconomic differences to bias among healthcare professionals.
In 2017, an investigative report was released that found that of all developed countries, mothers in the U.S. had the highest risk of mortality as a result of labor complications. Women of color are particularly vulnerable as they are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than non-Hispanic white women. Some experts suggest that this disparity may stem from a failure to take problems minority mothers are having seriously.
Even the Rich Are Not Immune
Surprisingly, even those of considerable wealth are not immune to these issues. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and Serena Williams have also publicly described concerns and health scares they have had within the medical system while giving birth. Williams, in particular, described a scenario in which her known medical concerns were not taken seriously when voiced and ultimately cost her substantially more hospital time.
Ms. Williams knew she was prone to pulmonary embolisms — blood clots that suddenly block arteries in the lungs — and reported to her doctor that she may be experiencing one when she had difficulty breathing after childbirth. Although she knew the necessary treatment and requested it from her doctor, other tests were performed before finally determining she had been right all along. The wasted time in diagnosis caused other complications that ultimately led to her being bedridden for six weeks after the birth of her daughter.
Steps for Change
Race is only skin deep. Years of studies and genetic testing have proven this without any question of a doubt. Skin color varies on a continuum, not a categorical basis and experts believe this is a far better means of describing human traits. After all, racism only has a place when racial categories are accepted culturally and socially.
Numerous steps are being taken to help address the disparity in quality care among ethnic groups. One such way is through medical scholarship programs that aim to increase the number of minorities who are able to successfully complete medical school. By adding more doctors with varying backgrounds, it is hoped that greater awareness and understanding of people of color can be organically built within the healthcare profession.
Magnolia Potter is from the Pacific Northwest and writes from time to time. She prefers to cover a variety of topics and not just settle on one. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her outdoors or curled up with a good book. Chat with her on Twitter @MuggleMagnolia.