For many minorities, something as simple as finding and scheduling a doctor’s appointment can stimulate feelings of anxiety and dread. Minority communities have long felt underserved and unheard by the medical community when it comes to options, diagnosis, and treatment. In short, they don’t trust medical professionals to have their best interests at heart. That distrust comes at an astronomical cost. Not only does it prevent minority populations from seeking basic preventative care like yearly physicals, but it also leaves them skeptical of treatments that could be the literal difference between life and death.
That’s why the presence of minority physicians, especially in minority communities, is so important. Although there may be an inclination to dismiss the need to a trivial perspective that people simply “want to see people who look like them,” it goes much deeper. While that assertion is certainly true, the Black community’s lack of trust and reverence for white medical professionals goes back hundreds of years. Even though medicine, treatment options, and physician access has greatly improved, the perception of doctors and their relationship to minority patients have not.
Conversely, here’s what seeing and having access to more minority physicians really means to minority patients.
Less Fear and More Trust
When minority patients see medical providers who more closely resemble them, their families, and friends, they generally become more comfortable with expressing their concerns. That doesn’t mean information will be free flowing or that attending medical professionals won’t experience any resistance, but the barrier to patient care can be significantly lessened. Medical facilities can seem overwhelming, isolating, and even intimidating. Seeing a familiar face eases some of those tensions making for a better overall experience. To minority patients, doctors are often generally seen as uncaring and impatient. A minority doctor might not completely dispel those thoughts, they can however help to lessen them. The rationale is that the perceived familiarity through cultural and/or racial similarities stimulates trust and trust alleviates fear.
An Awareness of Cultural Stigmas
One barrier to care for minority patients is that they often carry a host of culturally based misgivings regarding medical care. Though some of it may be rooted in truth, the many iterations that occur as those truths are passed from one family member to the next end up having little relevance in the grand scheme of medical care. It’s plausible that because minority medical personnel have likely heard the same tales of medical cautions, if only minimally, they are more apt to identify and dispel them.
More Open Communication
It can be taboo for many minority patients to discuss personal issues outside of the home. Even if sharing those things with a medical professional can save their lives. The fact that patients might keep pertinent medical information from their doctors signals an ongoing lack of trust and a need to protect their personal lives. Unless, of course, the doctor happens to look like them. In that case, the lines of communication can be opened if even only slightly. When a connection is made based on culture or race, patients often feel more comfortable answering and asking questions, and considering treatment recommendations. When there is a reduced fear of judgment or interference from outside entities, patients are more apt to share their medical concerns and the root of them.
Expectations of Being Heard and Understood
On average, minority men see their healthcare professionals at a much lower rate than minority women. Due to pregnancy, annual exams, mammograms, and a host of other routine care visits, women naturally have more reasons to see a physician on more occasions. Unfortunately, minority women are more likely to be misdiagnosed, disregarded, and undertreated in comparison to white women. Minority women have been said to have a higher pain threshold, are often thought to exaggerate their symptoms, and be overlooked for less intrusive treatment options. It would make sense then that the presence of a minority physician, who has very likely experienced that same mistreatment themselves, would be integral to the overall care and well-being of minority women.
A Silent Camaraderie
Careers as doctors, lawyers, and engineers are seen as the ultimate in both educational and financial achievement in many minority households. Though it might be every parent’s dream to see their children in those white coats, minorities who enter and complete medical school and go on to work in medical fields still lag behind their white counterparts. So, for patients to see doctors of color, even if they have no actual relation to them, is a source of pride. This is even truer among older patients who might have very limited education. It can also give patients a sense of belonging. If their black doctor has a right to exist in that environment, then that patient has increased confidence in having the shared right to be there. Minority doctors frequently serve as inspiration for young minority patients. To young patients, it is one thing to dream of becoming a doctor and quite another to see that dream realized right in front of you.
Minority men, women, and children navigating the healthcare system shoulder a load of emotional and mental traumas. The idea of placing their full trust in any medical professional may trigger an internal response that makes receiving the treatment they need even more difficult. Though the presence of more minority physicians may not alleviate all of the misgivings directed towards doctors, it can work wonders for helping minority patients get the medical help they need and deserve.