Trying to avoid racist healthcare, black women seek out black obstetricians

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

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

“There are a lot of black networks that are behind the scenes,” said Hibbert, who runs his own marketing business. “I don’t want them to be backstage, so I 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 welcoming to Hibbert as a black woman pregnant with her first child.

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

In addition to a shared culture and values, a black doctor can provide black patients with a sense of security, validation, and trust. Research has shown that racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias continue to plague the U.S. healthcare system and can cause unequal treatment racial and ethnic minorities.

Black patients saw their complaints and symptoms dismissed and their pain subcontracted, and they are referred less frequently for specialized care. Older black Americans still remember when parts of the country separated hospitals and clinics, not to mention deeply unethical medical failures and abuse, such as the 40-year-old. Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

But even today, say black patients, 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 care, if they could find any.

Hibbert is working to transform its website into a more comprehensive and searchable directory. She said the most wanted specialist is the obstetrician-gynecologist: “Oh my God, the # 1 call I get is [for] a black OB-GYN.

For black women, the impact of systemic racism can appear abruptly during childbirth. They are thrice as likely to die after childbirth as white women in the United States.

Nelson adams is a black OB-GYN at Jackson North Medical Center in North Miami Beach, Florida. He said he understood some women’s preference for a black OB-GYN, but that couldn’t be the only answer: “If every black woman wanted to have a black doctor, it would be next to impossible. The numbers are not there.

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

“The golden rule says, ‘Do to others what you would like them to do to you,’ so a doctor’s heart has to be that kind of heart where you take care of people the way you want them to do to you. be treated or want your family to be treated, ”he said.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, and the wave of protests and activism that followed, prompted US businesses, universities, nonprofits and other institutions to reassess their own history and their race policies. Medical schools were no exception. In September, the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami revamped its four-year program to to integrate anti-racist training.

New training has also been incorporated into the curriculum at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where students learn to ask patients about their history and experiences in addition to their bodily health. New questions may include: “Have you ever felt discriminated against? Or “Do you feel safe to communicate your needs?” “

“Different things that were questions we may never have asked historically, but we have to start asking ourselves,” said Dr Sarah Wood, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education at Florida Atlantic.

Medical students begin to learn about racism in healthcare in their first year, and as they go, they also learn to communicate with patients from different cultures and backgrounds, Wood added.

These changes come after decades of racist teaching in US medical schools. Adams, the OB-GYN, completed his residency in Atlanta in the early 1980s. He recalls learning that if a black woman went to the doctor or hospital with pelvic pain, “the assumption was that it was probably a sexually transmitted disease, what we call PID, pelvic inflammatory disease. Typical causes are gonorrhea and / or chlamydia.

This initial assumption was consistent with a racist view of the sexual activity of black women – a presumption that white women were spared. “If the same symptoms were exhibited by a young white woman, Caucasian, the hypothesis would not be an STD, but endometriosis,” Adams said. Endometriosis is not sexually transmitted and is therefore less stigmatizing, less linked to the behavior of the patient.

This diagnostic rule of thumb is no longer taught, but physicians can still bring unconscious racial bias to their encounters with their patients, Adams said.

While reorganizing their programs, medical schools are also trying to increase diversity within their student ranks. The Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic established in 2012 a partnership with Florida A&M University, the historically black state university. Undergraduates who wish to become physicians are mentored as they complete their pre-medical education, and those who meet certain criteria are admitted to Schmidt after graduation.

Dr. Michelle Wilson took this route and graduated from Schmidt this spring. She is traveling to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia for a family medicine residency. Wilson was drawn to this specialty because she can do primary care but also give birth. She wants to build a practice focused on the needs of black families.

“We have changed the code. Being able to be as comfortable with your patient I think is important when building a long term relationship with them, ”Wilson said.

“Being able to relax and talk to my patient like family – I think being able to do that really strengthens the relationship, especially makes a patient want to come back another time and say to themselves, ‘ I really like this doctor. ‘”

She said she hopes her work inspires the next generation of black doctors.

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

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

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