The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked a massive movement against racial injustices faced by the Black community in the United States. These events have reminded Americans of their country’s long history of racism while also revealing the country’s current treatment of Black people and people of color (POC). While law enforcement and government officials face major scrutiny for discrimination, not many people recognize the racial disparity also endured by the Black community in the healthcare field. Historically, many generations of Americans were raised to believe that Black people were an inferior race. The Civil Rights movement that ended in the 1960’s fought for the equal rights of Black people, although many people today, including physicians, still hold racial biases.
A 2005 study by the National Academy of Medicine reported that lack people have shorter life spans than white people do. They made known that Black communities and white communities were not receiving equal healthcare. Historically, white communities were prescribed better treatment, obtaining more effective medication for the same illnesses than Black communities were. Furthermore, Black people were often used as subjects in medical research. One notable example is that of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who died amidst her battle with cervical cancer in 1951. Physicians kept samples of her cancer tissue, successfully generating the most critical immortalized human cell line, HeLa cells, in cancer research. The Lacks family was never advised that the scientific breakthrough was due in part to Henrietta.
Unfortunately, some medical researchers and physicians today still hold implicit racial biases. A recent example is seen in the death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. American Medical Association president Patrice Harris, MD, MA, stated that African-Americans are being hit harder by the virus than any other group. It was found that 22% of U.S. counties that reported coronavirus cases are predominantly Black, yet these counties constitute 58% of COVID deaths. Harris acknowledged the possible factors that led to the heavy impact of the coronavirus on the Black community, specifying that pre-existing medical conditions of Black people were not treated and reiterating the implicit racial biases that physicians hold.
The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired medical institutions to initiate required training on implicit bias for all medical personnel and hospital staff. Medical students and physicians have additionally reflected on their own institutions’ values of creating welcoming environments for everyone entering their facilities.
The racial injustices against the Black community in the United States are still apparent today. These recent events are a strong reminder to fight for Black lives every day until justice is received. As future leaders and physicians of this country, it is our responsibility to join the movement as devoted allies to ensure equal treatment for everyone.