Doctors Should Listen and Adhere, Not Instruct and Ignore

Trust is not given.  It is earned. For too many Black women, a sense of confidence in care is not there with their doctors, someone you should trust has your best interest. However, for many Black women, that trust isn’t there; they feel like they’re not being listened to about their healthcare.

To understand why it’s hard for Black women to trust that doctors and others in healthcare are listening to them, we must look back at the history of healthcare—a history overladen with the mistreatment of Black women. Over the course of history, healthcare professionals have been complicit in supporting the fictional biological concept of race being a justification for the abuse and enslavement of Black people. These falsities also led to the propagation of racial categorizations in healthcare, suggesting connotations such as Black people having a higher pain tolerance. 

James Sims was one of those healthcare professional tragedies. Sims was hailed as the “Father of Gynecology” and is still praised for his discoveries about the female reproductive system, despite his inhumanely inspecting Black women’s bodies without their consent. The stories of the operations that Sims performed are horrendous. Adding in the fact that he refused to use anesthesia because of racial categorization exponentially intensifies the unimaginable pain those 12 women endured. The contributions to modern medicine by Sims and many others continue to spread without mentioning the system used to get the research or notice of the racial biases that their work relied on and continues to perpetuate.  

  • A 2016 study found that almost half of first- and second-year medical students believed Black people had thicker skin and had a higher pain tolerance than white people.
  • A 2019 American Journal of Emergency Medicine study found that Black patients were 40% less likely to receive medication for acute pain than white people and 34% less likely to be prescribed opioids.
  • The Department of Health found that a Black woman with a college degree is more than twice as likely to experience severe childbirth complications than a white woman who has not finished high school.  This finding puts to bed the notion that quality of care relies upon socioeconomic status. 

It does not help that representation of Black doctors is minuscule. Only 5.3% of practicing physicians in the U.S. are Black and Black women make up 3% of that small group. Most people find it hard to trust doctors, especially those who don’t look like them. When patients of color experience poor bedside manners and mediocre to subpar care, it can ultimately result in them not going to the doctor. These poor conditions contribute to women of color having the highest maternal mortality rates, their children having the highest infant mortality rates, and the highest numbers and deaths from other health issues such as cancer, hypertension, and heart disease.  

Whether you have experienced unequal treatment in the healthcare system or not, here are some things you can do to further advocate for your health at the doctor’s office, according to The Lily, a product of the Washington Post: 

  • Learn the basics of your healthcare: know what screenings and procedures are needed and at what age.
  • Know your normal: only you know how you feel daily, so know your normal to know when something is off. 
  • Don’t ignore pain.
  • Find an excellent primary care doctor: having a primary care doctor you can trust with all your health concerns is essential. Keep looking until you find one that you’re comfortable with. There are resources such as the Association of Black Women Physicians, White Coats for Black Lives, and Health in Her Hue to help you find the right doctor for you.