By: Lamar Greene
Having a marginalized identity in America means that you carry a burden of discrimination, and the medical system is not excused from this issue. There are many people from marginalized groups who hold severe distrust for the medical system, and they are justified in feeling this way. People with disabilities, for example, have vast disparities in health outcomes. Although there are other causes, these disparities can partially be attributed to stigma and differences in treatment in the medical system.
Black people are another group of people who suffer striking health disparities that can partially be attributed to stigma and racism held by doctors in the medical system. There are many doctors who believe that there are biological differences between races, and this ideology directs their course of treatment for their Black patients. We can see this, for example, in the case of pain management and treatment for Black patients. A student at the University of Virginia conducted a study asking 222 medical residents at the school if they believed certain statements about White people and Black people were true. More than 100 students believed that medical fallacies—such as Black people having less sensitive nerve endings and Black people’s blood coagulating more quickly—to be true. Beliefs such as these make it harder for Black people to get the care that they need and often results in inadequate services in the medical system for members of this community.
I can go on to discuss how the medical system has wrongly harmed marginalized groups in this country at the hands of stigma. This would include harm done to refugees, immigrants, women, and so many others. The medical system has long reflected larger societal fears and ignorance. People who face discrimination and acts of hatred in society generally see that discrimination follow them to doctor’s offices and hospitals, places where every individual should be able to receive care that addresses their medical needs and makes them feel valued as a human being in the process.
For example, Dr. C. Lee Cohen is a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital experience an injury that resulted in partial hearing loss in both of her ears. She says that she can communicate better with patients who have hearing loss because of her disability. She understands how your brain parses words differently when you have hearing loss from personal experience. This has helped her to better rephrase questions and medical advice so that patients can better understand and get the health services that they deserve.
Dr. Rachel Levine is a trans doctor who argues that the “humanistic element” is something that she can provide to trans patients because of her personal experience with the medical system while transitioning. She stresses how going to the doctor can be a stressful experience for any trans patient because of the overwhelming stigma that is present in society, which is why the “humanistic element” is crucial for these patients to get the care that they need and deserve.
- Krahn, G. L., Walker, D. K., & Correa-De-Araujo, R. (2015). Persons with Disabilities as an Unrecognized Health Disparity Population. American Journal of Public Health, 105(S2). doi:10.2105/ajph.2014.302182
- Hoffman, K. M., Trawalter, S., & Axt, A. J. (2015). Racial Bias in Pain Assessment and Treatment Recommendations, and False Beliefs About Biological Differences Between Blacks and Whites.