To avoid racist health care, black women seek black obstetricians

When people in South Florida want to find a black doctor, they often contact Adrienne Hibbert through her Black Doctors of South Florida website.

This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR, WLRN, and KHN. It can be republished for free.

“There are a lot of black networks behind the scenes,” said Hibbert, who runs her own marketing firm. “I don’t want you to be behind the scenes, so I’ll bring it to the fore.”

Hibbert said she came up with the idea for the website after giving birth to her son 15 years ago.

Her obstetrician was white, and the suburban hospital outside of Miami didn’t feel welcome with Hibbert as a black woman pregnant with her first child.

“They didn’t have unique photos of a black woman and her black child,” said Hibbert. “I want someone who understands my background. I want someone who understands the foods I eat. I want someone who understands my upbringing and things that my grandma used to tell me. “

In addition to sharing a common culture and values, a black doctor can give black patients a sense of security, reassurance, and trust. Research has shown that racism, discrimination, and unconscious prejudice can continue to plague the US healthcare system and lead to unequal treatment of racial and ethnic minorities.

In black patients, their complaints and symptoms have been dismissed, their pain has not been adequately treated, and they are less likely to be referred for special treatment. Older black Americans can still remember when there were separate hospitals and clinics in some areas of the country, not to mention deeply unethical medical failures and abuses such as the 40-year-old Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

But even today, black patients say, too many clinicians can be dismissive, condescending, or impatient – which does little to restore confidence. Some black patients would prefer to work with black doctors for their treatment if they could find one.

Hibbert is working to transform their website into a more comprehensive, searchable directory. She said the most sought-after specialist was the obstetrician-gynecologist, “Oh my god, the number one call I get is [for] a black OB-GYN. “

In black women, the effects of systemic racism can be evident at birth. They are three times more likely to die after childbirth than white women in the United States.

Nelson Adams is a black gynecologist at Jackson North Medical Center in North Miami Beach, Florida. He said he understood some women’s preference for a black gynecologist, but said that couldn’t be the only answer: “If every black woman wants a black doctor, it would be practically impossible. The numbers aren’t there. “

And it’s not just about recruiting more black students into medicine and nursing, he said, although that would help. He wants systemic change, which means that medical schools must teach all students – regardless of race, culture, or background – to treat patients with respect and dignity. In other words, how they want to be treated themselves.

“The golden rule is, ‘Treat others as you should,’ so a doctor’s heart must be a heart that cares for people the way you want to be treated, or want yours Family is treated, ”he said.

The May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the wave of protests and activism that followed prompted corporations, universities, nonprofits, and other American institutions to reconsider their own history and politics regarding race. Medical schools were no exception. In September, the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine revised its four-year curriculum to include anti-racism training.

New training also became part of the curriculum at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where students are taught to question patients about their history and experience in addition to their physical health. The new questions could be “Have you ever felt discriminated against?” Or “Do you feel safe sharing your needs?”

“Various things that we may never have asked in the past, but we have to start asking,” said Dr. Sarah Wood, Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education at Florida Atlantic.

The medical students will learn about racism in healthcare in their first year and will also learn to communicate with patients from different cultures and backgrounds over time, Wood added.

These changes come after decades of racist teaching in medical schools in the United States. Adams, the gynecologist, completed his residency in Atlanta in the early 1980s. He recalls being taught that when a Black woman came to the doctor or hospital with pelvic pain, “the assumption was that it was likely a sexually transmitted disease, something we call PGD, inflammatory Designate pelvic disease. The typical causes there are gonorrhea and / or chlamydia. “

This initial assumption was in line with a racist view of the sexual activities of black women – a presumption that white women were spared. “If the same symptoms were experienced by a Caucasian young woman who was white, the assumption would be endometriosis and not an STD,” said Adams. Endometriosis is not sexually transmitted and is therefore less stigmatizing and less tied to the patient’s behavior.

This diagnostic rule of thumb is no longer taught, but doctors can still introduce unconscious racial biases into their patient encounters, Adams said.

As they revise their curricula, medical schools are also trying to increase diversity within their student ranks. Florida Atlantic’s Schmidt College of Medicine partnered with Florida A&M University, the state’s historic black university, in 2012. Doctoral students who want to become doctors are supervised during their medical studies, and those who achieve certain benchmarks are accepted into Schmidt after their studies.

Dr. Michelle Wilson took this path and completed her studies with Schmidt this spring. She is on her way to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia for residency in family medicine. Wilson was drawn to this specialty because it can provide basic care, but it can also give birth to babies. She wants to build a practice that focuses on the needs of black families.

“We’re changing the code. I think it is important that you are comfortable with your patient when you are building a long-term relationship with them, ”said Wilson.

“To be able to relax and talk to my patients as if they were family – I think this really builds on the relationship, in particular leads one patient to come back another time and say, ‘ I really like this doctor. ‘“

She hopes her work will inspire the next generation of black doctors.

“I didn’t have a black doctor growing up,” said Wilson. “I’m paving the way for other little black girls who look like me and want to be doctors. I can let them know that it is possible. “

This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR, WLRN, and KHN.

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