Only 5 percent of doctors in the U.S. identify as Black.
This is Race and Medicine, a series dedicated to unearthing the uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening truth about racism in healthcare. By highlighting the experiences of Black people and honoring their health journeys, we look to a future where medical racism is a thing of the past.
Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and anti-Blackness are being examined in many American industries: healthcare is one of them.
In addition, the way in which COVID-19 has specifically impacted Black Americans now makes the inherent racism within healthcare very clear.
The current pandemic is exposing the consequences of racial discrimination within healthcare industries at every level. However, anti-Blackness in medicine and other related health disparities is nothing new for Black people.
The medical field has historically been an industry that perpetuates neglect and prejudice towards Black patients. There is also a notable lack of Black representation in active doctors and physicians in the United States.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2018 only 5 percent of all active physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American compared to 56.2 percent of active physicians in America who are white.
The lack of Black doctors and medical staff who have the ability to recognize health concerns in Black patients may have life threatening consequences.
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To combat the effects of racism and lack of Black representation in the medical field, there are a number of organizations advocating for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students and doctors with the goal of breaking barriers and diversifying the healthcare industry.
Here are some of the organizations doing the work to make sure the future has more Black doctors and healthcare professionals.
The Society of Black Academic Surgeons (SBAS) has been advocating to “improve health, advance science, and foster careers of African American and other underrepresented minority surgeons” for over three decades.
In addition to diversifying faculty in academic surgery, SBAS seeks to promote their members into leadership positions as well as eliminate health disparities against BIPOC patients.
SBAS values mentoring its members in fellowship programs to achieve the goals stated in the organization’s mission statement.
Membership benefits for students within SBAS include access to the organization’s resources for the opportunity to enter their chosen medical profession and prepare for residencies.
They also offer access to a network of like-minded colleagues within the organization, opportunities to save money through SBAS student members-only programs, and more.
The Association of Black Women Physicians (ABWP) is a nonprofit organization networked by Black women to support BIPOC women in healthcare.
ABWP also funds projects committed to eradicating racial health disparities for BIPOC patients as well as improving the overall health concerns of minority patients.
“Since the nonprofit organization began in 1982, the Association of Black Women Physicians has awarded over $800,000 in scholarships to deserving Black medical students,” says Co-Chair, Advocacy Committee, and Past President of ABWP Dr. Valencia Walker.
In addition to scholarships, their “Sister-to-Sister” mentorship program provides needed support and connection to Black women interested in becoming healthcare professionals.
“We also partner with groups building the pipeline for future healthcare professionals such as 100 Black Men of Long Beach, UCLA Black Alumni, Diamond in the Raw, Jack and Jill, and The Links,” says Walker.
Furthermore, Dr. Walker describes ABWP’s work with organizations outside of the medical field to ensure people with power and influence across many industries understand the necessary fight for equality in healthcare.
“We value our relationship with Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles and appreciate the opportunity to educate lawyers and politicians about health problems disproportionately affecting Black people,” Walker says.
He adds, “As an organization, we are firmly committed to health justice and always advocating for the elimination of health and healthcare inequities.”
Founded in 1895, the National Medical Association (NMA) is the oldest and largest organization promoting the well-being and interests of Black physicians and patients.
NMA is committed to improving health quality for disadvantaged and marginalized communities. They do this through professional development, advocacy, research, community health education, and partnerships.
NMA conducts research and provides accredited medical education to keep their members abreast of the latest advancements in medical practices and specialties.
To further show their commitment to increasing diversity within the medical field, NMA provides students with thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships, provided by NMA’s members, private philanthropic organizations, corporations, and proceeds from scholarship benefit efforts.
The National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) is a nonprofit organization that provides support for Black nurses and ensures quality healthcare for patients of color.
First organized in 1971, NBNA represents approximately 200,000 Black nurses across North America, the Eastern Caribbean, and Africa, with over 115 chapters across the globe.
“The lack of Black people in healthcare is a big issue that is directly impacting the health of citizens in Black communities,” says NBNA President Dr. Martha Dawson. “With such underrepresentation in a profession that is the largest healthcare workforce in the world and the U.S., it’s important that we increase the number of Black nurses in this country.”
For its members, NBNA conducts educational programs for nurses and allied health professionals, as well as annual scholarships for students.
“In 2020, NBNA and its local chapters…awarded over $169,000 in scholarship to nursing students seeking their entry level degrees through doctorate education,” says Dawson.
The American Black Chiropractic Association (ABCA) recruits, encourages, and supports Black people to study chiropractic and encourages leadership amongst chiropractic doctors, instructors, technicians, and students.
“ABCA’s mission is to ‘Integrate and improve outcomes for persons of color entering the profession of doctor of chiropractic,'” says Dr. Micheala E. Edwards, President of the American Black Chiropractic Association.
According to Dr. Edwards, “ABCA is a 501(c)(3) organization that has student chapters at any of the 18 chiropractic schools across the nation in addition to members who are doctors of chiropractic.”
ABCA awards students annual scholarships and provides mentors to give students the opportunity to shadow doctors and receive on-the-job training for further practice.
“We understand that we are simply one branch in the healthcare field, but we are motivated to support other organizations that share similar missions. The ultimate goal is to create a nation where such a large coalition is no longer needed — where the disparities in the industry become history,” says Edwards.
Given the staggering statistics of medical neglect due to racism, anti-Blackness, and misogynoir embedded in American healthcare, it is imperative for the future of medicine to have more Black doctors to combat life threatening discrimination for BIPOC patients.
All the organizations mentioned accept donations through their website and provide opportunities for further education on the work they do.
The organizations also provide information and links on their website for interested individuals looking to become members.
When I look to the future, I see Black patients having the choice to receive care from Black doctors. I see doctors of all races who understand how to provide culturally sensitive, trauma-informed care.
Thanks in large part to these organizations, a future like this is more than possible.
Ebony Purks is a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional writing. She is a freelance writer and blogger and runs a personal blog called Black Girl’s Digest. She writes analyses covering anything from pop culture to current events. In her spare time, Ebony enjoys bingeing her favorite shows on Netflix, watching YouTube, practicing yoga, and reading on occasion.