With the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, the need for Black doctors has become more and more evident. Racial inequities among medical professionals persist, with Black physicians remaining scarce. According to the 2020 US Census, Black people make up 13% of the total population, 12.4% being African American (44.4 million) in the United States. Of that number 5% are doctors according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. (AAMC).
We know that representation is important to us. There is a level of comfortability that comes from seeing others like ourselves. It is no different in seeking health care providers who look like us to provide the standard of care that we deserve. Studies have shown that Black people, especially African American men are more likely to feel comfortable with and take health advice from doctors who look like them.
Let’s go a step further past comfortability with those who look like us. Studies show that patients of color receive better care and have better health outcomes from health care providers of color. We know that Black people are more comfortable with Black health care providers. We also know that our health literally depends on them. So why the lack of Black doctors?
Years of slavery, oppression, poor education, unsafe environments, and unfair systems in general have worked against us…and still do.
Frederick Douglass once said about Dr. James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a formal medical degree, that “No man in this country more thoroughly understands the whole struggle between freedom and slavery than does Dr. Smith, and his heart is as broad as his understanding.”
Although medicine didn’t start with Dr. Smith (Onesimus, an enslaved African holds this honor), Dr. Smith was the first African American to publish peer-reviewed articles in medical journals, wrote essays, and gave lectures refuting pseudoscientific (false) claims of black inferiority, while forecasting the transformational impact African Americans were certain to make on world culture (Smithsonian Magazine).
Men (and women) like Dr. Smith, even when they graduated at the top of their class in medical school, not only endured racism, but often weren’t trusted by other African Americans who believed unlike their white counterparts, they were poorly trained. Centuries later, Black doctors still face barriers when it comes to educational opportunities and advancement in their careers, however, the drive for achievement in medicine hasn’t stopped Black doctors like Dr. Smith from setting standards in the field like no other; opening doors for all to step into the arena.
It’s been a long road, but this timeline of medical achievements by black doctors will show you where we were, have been going, and where our future lies. https://guides.mclibrary.duke.edu/blackhistorymonth/chronology
Black people are REshaping the field of medicine. Medical schools are reporting a record increase in Black students entering medical schools across the country. Our rich heritage of strength, determination, and resiliency, coupled with the need for equality, continues to drive us as a people. Kirk Carapezza from the NPR member station GBH 89.7 in Boston, reports that Tufts University has nearly tripled the number of first-year students who are Black. Although we are making strides and the number of us going into the medical field is increasing, the hurdles must be addressed: the weight of standardized testing, limited medical school class sizes in predominantly white institutions, and financial costs continue to be a burden.
The good news is there are initiatives to address and correct the mistakes of the past (and present).
The American Medical Association aims to increase the number of minority doctors and works toward removing racial and ethnic health disparities with their Doctor’s Back to School program. Other initiatives that are opening doors for our future Black doctors of America are Black Men in White Coats, the Action Collaborative, and funding through a partnership with CommonSpirit Health and Morehouse Medical School.
Our road to medical achievement can only go up from here. Representation matters and the need for Black health and wellness will continue to be at the forefront of the medical community, provided that WE make sure OUR STORIES are told, OUR VOICES are heard, and OUR CHOICES are not taken for granted. This is for the future of those we love! We WILL be the experts over our health, because we’ve got this!
This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.
If you require a doctor, here is a list to get you started on your wellness journey (List of Black doctors here)
To become an expert over your health, please visit https://weconsiderwa.org/our-choice/ to download our helpful form to assist with your PCP interview, and to answer questions you may have.
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Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found on our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.