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We need more black doctors

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A report just released by Verywell, a website providing health and wellness information, found that half of black Americans polled in the survey agree that “the healthcare system is racist”, while one in three say they have experienced racism when dealing with health care providers.

As a result of these experiences, the report concluded that “Black Americans make decisions that interrupt their care, such as seeking a new provider or postponing a follow-up appointment.”

Such disparities in access to health care are very costly.


“People of color and other underserved groups experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, limiting the nation’s overall health,” according to a separate study released last May by the Kaiser Family Foundation. He cited a WK Kellogg Foundation report that said these disparities amounted to $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity per year.

Black hospitalized patients are also more likely to be in hospitals with worse safety conditions. Systemic racism and time pressures in health care lead to racist doctors who lack the cultural competence to treat black patients. While black doctors help black patients get better quality care, the match is hard to come by due to a shortage of black doctors.

The shallow pool of black doctors can be seen throughout the doctor pipeline. Black Americans make up about 13% of the US population and have a medical school acceptance rate of 34% compared to the average of 41% where all other racial and ethnic groups fall.

Research from the New England Journal of Medicine, which examined data collected between 1978 and 2019, shows that black and Latino physicians in particular remain underrepresented in the field: “In 1978, black men made up 3.1% of the national body of medical students. . In 2019, the related figure was 2.9%. »

In total, black people made up only about 6% of medical school graduates in the 2018-19 academic year.

Medical schools have attempted to address the myriad issues facing black students through holistic admissions review processes, outreach activities, and increased unconscious bias training. Nevertheless, more attention should be paid to implicit biases in admissions and other factors that negatively affect the success of black students at all academic levels in medical education.

Reducing the disparities faced by black patients and black medical practitioners is an ethical and economic issue. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates a national shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034 – a clear sign that the current medical student support system is failing. Even if everyone had the same access to health care, the demand for practicing black doctors would still outstrip the supply.

According to the AAMC study, the United States would need approximately 118,000 black physicians to achieve health care equity for black patients by 2032. Since medical schools do not graduate that less than 1,500 black students per year, it would take nearly 40 years to achieve that goal.

Ordinary citizens should lobby lawmakers to pass the Build Back Better Act that supports additional funding and protections for federal workforce development programs, including Titles VII and VIII of the law on public health services.

Under the Public Health Services Act, these programs emphasize culturally competent support and training that will increase minority representation in professional health care. This is necessary to reduce health disparities for black patients and reduce health care costs for all Americans.

Dr Princess Currence is an Assistant Professor specializing in anti-racism and bias education and training, Director of Curriculum and Education at Rush Medical College, and Public Voices Fellow of Project Oped and Rush University .