Opinion | Systemic racism is in the medical field

Hospitals, doctors, and other life-saving things are not immune to discriminatory views — and minorities are not immune to the consequences.


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Medical bed on wheels in the hospital corridor. View from below.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Columnist

Throughout this year, we have started conversation on ending systemic racism in America like in the police force and education system.

However, police brutality and discrimination in schools are not the only forms that it is taking place.

The American healthcare system has racial disparities that have caused minority groups to have unequal access to quality medical care. We must fix the system by ensuring high-quality practices and easier access to facilities because race has no place in being a determinant for the quality of medical treatment.

Last month, the University of Iowa Lecture Committee and UI Carver College of Medicine’s American Medical Association chapter brought Patrice Harris as a virtual lecturer to UI students and faculty.

As the first African American woman to have held the position as president of the American Medical Association, she discussed racial health disparities in the healthcare system.

The committee and chapter set an example for other institutions to follow in initiating conversations about racism that is not always visible but still has negative impacts on minority groups.

But having conversation is not enough. Changes to current practices must be taken in order to remove these biases in the medical field.

One of the biggest disparities is pregnancy. Black women are three to four more times likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. While limited access to healthcare and poor treatment play a role, another significant problem is that black women are undervalued and not as monitored as white women.

This racial bias was evident when Serena Williams experienced complications while giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia.

Despite expressing concern and known history for embolisms, the nurses and doctors initially dismissed her symptoms like shortness of breath and coughing. Williams ended up needing surgery from rupturing her c-section wound from her embolisms

While evidence has proven child-birth complications are often preventable, black women are more likely to experience them because doctors dismiss their medical concerns and end up getting sent to medical facilities unequipped to handle their pregnancies. What’s the easiest way to fix this problem? Let’s hold implicit training that tries to remove these biases, and let’s hold  doctors accountable by issuing consequences when they are not listening.

Now living through a pandemic has heightened these disparities where COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting minorities.

According to research, Black people are 1.4 more times likely to contract the virus, 3.7 more times to be hospitalized, and 2.8 more likely to die from COVID-19.

In Iowa alone, Black Iowans make up four percent of the state population, but they comprise 11 percent of COVID-19 cases and five percent of deaths in the state

Inequities like the wealth gap which has led to limited options for quality healthcare. Medical facilities need to offer affordable treatment available instead of relying on people’s insurance to pay-especially to minorities who have limited options who can’t afford high-quality treatment for serious health issues.

Race should not be a factor in our health-care system, yet the medical field is full of racial disparities . Now that we are living in a global pandemic, minorities are feeling the effects of racial disparities now more than ever.

It’s time to bring systemic racism and implicit bias in the medical field into the conversation, and more importantly it’s time to change current practices in order to guarantee high quality medical treatment for everybody.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.