How Cultural Racism in the Healthcare System Creates Health Inequities

Cultural racism is ingrained in the US culture of medicine and is evident in the stereotypes and prejudice that stigmatize racial groups.
Certain stereotypes from the time of slavery remain in the healthcare context. Implicit bias and notions that Blacks are less likely to experience pain guide physicians’ healthcare decisions. For instance, physicians are less likely to prescribe medications to people of color and less likely to refer them to specialty care or procedures. Over half of medical residents and students who participated in a 2016 study believe the false notion that Black people do not experience pain the same way that whites do. False beliefs about biological differences between Blacks and whites inform medical decisions—cultural racism in medicine results in the systematic undertreatment of pain among Black adults and children. Diversifying the medical field can help combat cultural racism in the healthcare system. For instance, Black babies are more likely to survive when the doctor caring for them is Black; similarly, Black male patients are more likely to opt-in to receive all preventive services when treated by a Black doctor. These findings show that diversity matters in building trust between patients and providers and reducing health gaps.