The Impact of Lacking Black Doctors in Healthcare

By Stanley Clark

In itself, ethnicity does not lead to poor health outcomes.  The lack of diversity among healthcare providers however, can. Many Black Canadians experience significant issues when seeking healthcare, and part of the problem occurs due to a lack of Black doctors. 

Research shows that Black Canadians are also more likely to suffer from poorer health outcomes like diabetes and hypertension. Doctors from the same ethnic background can provide fairer, more understanding treatment, without Black doctors, disparities persists. 

The lack of Black doctors can also impact representation in clinical reviews. Studies that have an underrepresentation of Black people mean weaker data. Clinical review platforms must address the needs of Black people in their work to ensure the data being shown and shared addresses the needs of the community. 

Other impacts of lacking Black doctors in healthcare include the following:

Problems With Communication

People from diverse cultural backgrounds communicate in diverse ways. They also have alternative methods of disease prevention. Different cultures also deal with illness differently. If a doctor cannot understand these differences, it can have long-lasting and problematic results.

A patient may use cultural-specific language that could be verbal or non-verbal. A healthcare provider from a different ethnicity may have trouble understanding the patient, and may struggle to comprehend the severity of symptoms.

If a doctor cannot understand the patient’s symptoms, they can make a diagnosis error. Such mistakes lead to poor health outcomes. In addition , there exists a power difference between patients and doctors. The power disparity can make the communication barriers even worse. 

Avoidant Behaviour in Seeking Medical Care Among Black Communities

A Gallup study found that many Black adults experience difficulties finding a doctor of the same ethnicity as them. The lack of Black doctors is a significant problem, especially because patients report having bad experiences with doctors of different ethnicities.

For example, doctors who are not Black can hold harmful beliefs about their Black patients. Black patients also perceive that non-Black doctors don’t listen to their claims. Non-Black doctors can also doubt their claims. Even further, non-Black doctors may deny requests for tests and specific treatments.

The above negative experiences of Black patients can discourage them from seeking healthcare. Many people then resort to obtaining medical care, only when there is an emergency. Doing so compromises the health of Black individuals and entire communities. 

Reduced Quality of Care 

Someone’s perceived, or real socioeconomic status can affect their healthcare access. It can impede  them from getting quality medical care due to issues with accessibility and availability. Black people often face negative assumptions about their socioeconomic status, and the perceptions follow Black people wherever they go. Black patients can be distrustful, worry about negative perceptions, and then fear getting lower quality healthcare, compared to people of other ethnicities. Many Black people perceive that they experience a lack of respect from doctors. That is especially true when dealing with non-Black providers. The lack of respect leads to a reduced quality of care and decreased trust. 

Increased  Barriers to Reforms in Healthcare

According to Healthy Debate, there is a long history of ill-treatment of Black people in the healthcare sector. The mistreatment of Black people goes back to the enlightenment period. During that time, colonialists used scientific racism to defend colonial exploitation and expansion, through the vehicle of slavery. This origin story impacts the ways both doctors and  Black people in Canada perceive and interact with one another, especially in an imbalanced environment like a medical setting. Another example of the current mistreatment of Black Canadians is in the mental health sector. Black Canadians find it difficult to access mental health services. Getting help often becomes easier when the problem advances.

Reforms are necessary to improve equality in healthcare. Significant Black representation at the decision table would fast-track reforms. A lack of Black doctors slows the reform process, affecting access to quality care in Black communities. 

A Shortage of Doctors in Minority Communities

Physicians from underrepresented communities are likely to serve in minority areas. Most communities where Black individuals live face a shocking shortage of doctors. The lack of Black doctors worsens the shortage. In turn, the shortage limits the access of communities to healthcare.

For the health of all Canadians, an increase in diversity among doctors is paramount. This is why the work at the Black Physicians Association of Ontario is so critical to ensure the next and coming generation of Canadians and doctors, are better equipped to maintain and promote better health across our commuinities.  

About Stanley Clark:

Stanley Clark is a community development volunteer and writer. He has a particular interest in reviewing CBD brands for their safety and legitimacy. Stanley also contributes to wellness sites like Motherhood Community.

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