Viewpoint: As a black physician, I understand why patients distrust medicine

People of color have historically had good reason to distrust medicine and healthcare providers, wrote Armen Henderson, MD, a resident physician in south Florida, in an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

As a black physician from "the worst part of Philadelphia" and a community organizer, Dr. Henderson wrote he understands when patients distrust medical professionals. There is systemic racism in healthcare: Black people are undertreated for pain compared to white people, and black mothers' mortality rate is 3.3 times higher than that of white mothers.

The history of medicine is one of white supremacy, Dr. Henderson wrote. Black people were historically used as test subjects without their consent. Several black women underwent forced sterilization during abdominal surgery in Mississippi, for example, and an experiment at the Tuskegee Institute shortened the lives of black men with syphilis. Dr. Henderson also cites a 2015 study that found 50 percent of University of Virginia medical students think black people naturally feel less pain.

To correct the problem, physicians must first recognize that they have racial biases, Dr. Henderson wrote, adding that biases can be unlearned through education and introspection. Physicians can also read books outlining the history of racism in medicine and join or start a local chapter of Campaign Against Racism. 

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