Racial Bias Amongst Physicians: Why All Lives Don’t Matter Even in Medicine


    The movement of Black Lives Matter has brought the discussion of racial bias and discrimination to many communities including the medical community.  The impact of implicit racial bias is just beginning to be recognized, with new studies surfacing looking at its effects on the quality of patient care.  However, what’s not being discussed and perhaps even overlooked is the impact of racial bias towards physicians of color. 

    What’s even more disappointing is while the effects of gender bias on burnout is gaining increasing awareness and attention, there is virtually no current research looking at the impact of racial bias on physician burnout or even comparing burnout rates amongst physicians of different racial and cultural backgrounds.  Furthermore, very few studies have done over the last 10 years even looking at how racial discrimination affects careers in physicians of color. That said, the few studies that have mentioned racial bias in respect to the impact on physicians suggest that implicit racial bias toward physicians affects physician turnover, career dissatisfaction, and rates of burnout.

    Here are the statistics I’ve found in my research: In 2015 The New England Journal of Medicine reported that not only are blacks less likely to be retained as faculty as compared to white counterparts, but it also found that black faculty are less likely to hold a senior faculty or other senior administrative position, are less likely to receive research award from the NIH, and much less likely to be full tenured professors.  In 2008, British Medical Journal published a study that showed that white male physicians earn substantially more than black male physicians after adjustments of characteristics of physicians and practices. Furthermore, in 2009 the Journal of National Medical Association published a study that showed that workplace discrimination contributed to dissatisfaction, contemplation of career change, and ultimately job turnover. 

    As a black female physician, I have experienced the impact of both gender and racial bias my entire career. I’ve been in practice for 12 years, even today, as an intelligent, black, female, successful family physician I deal with these micro-aggressions daily in my private practice.  While today I choose my battles when it comes to addressing these subtle micro-aggressions, there was once a time when these experiences caused me to doubt whether I chose the right profession. The mere fact that I had to and still MUST deal with the battle takes its toll even to this day.

    Why do these issues continue to be largely ignored or swept under the rug when addressed?  It is because of the failure of physician communities and leadership not only recognize, but address the impact of ongoing racial bias and micro-aggression in our own community. The fact of the matter is that denying that racism exists doesn’t make it go away; it only perpetuates the problem. 

    What then is the solution?  This remains to be discovered. Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”  The first step is acknowledgement.  We must individually look at our own personal implicit biases, racial and otherwise. We must be willing to be drop-dead honest with ourselves about the impact it is having in our practices, in interactions with students and residents, with our colleagues and in our lives. We must be willing to be responsible for what we are teaching our children and the next generation of doctors.  Then like a disease, we must study its origin and impact, create ongoing discussions, and develop programs to disappear it.  Only when we, as a medical community, acknowledge the chronic plaguing dilemma of racial bias and discrimination within the medical community, can we begin to heal it. It is easy to say, “Oh no! I don’t have any racial bias…I don’t discriminate!”  However, like cars, we have blind spots. Project Implicit, a non-profit organization, has a wonderful implicit bias-free test if you would like to discover whether you have a blind spot about your attitudes towards other races, genders, or sexual orientation.  We as physicians are all here because of the bridges we have crossed. We as physicians have all paid our dues in blood, sweat, tears, long calls, sleepless nights, skipped meals, empty stomachs, full bladders, miracle moments, near misses, and lost patients.  We have all cried in the middle of the night, questioned ourselves, contemplated quitting, and pushed ourselves beyond imagined human capacity.  But, racial bias is and will remain an ongoing dilemma, and the time for change in consciousness is centuries overdue.

    Maiysha Clairborne MD

    Be A Part of the Solution.  If you like it, Please Share it.  And If you would like to learn more about how we create breakthroughs for physicians, visit www.thestressfreemd.com. Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician and physician wellness coach, and is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away. 


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    Comments 1

    Guest - Eddie on Friday, 09 December 2016 04:13

    Important topic and very well written.

    Important topic and very well written.
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