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    Discovering her past: Element uncovers her roots through African Ancestry DNA testing Tarik Moody


Is the EDUCATE Act a barrier to health equity for Black Americans?

todayMarch 25, 2024

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Is the EDUCATE Act a roadblock to health equity for Black Americans? Systemic Racism in healthcare
Boston University School of Medicine students participating in an event commemorating lives lost to racism. Photo courtesy of Boston Medical Center

In a time when the United States is grappling with the deep-rooted issues of systemic racism in healthcare, a proposed piece of legislation, the Embracing anti-Discrimination, Unbiased Curricula, and Advancing Truth in Education (EDUCATE) Act, has sparked intense debate about its potential impact on medical education and healthcare, particularly for the Black community and Black doctors. The bill, introduced by Congressman Greg Murphy, M.D., aims to ban race-based mandates and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at medical schools and accrediting institutions. While proponents argue that the bill seeks to eliminate discrimination and ensure academic excellence, critics warn that it could have severe unintended consequences, disproportionately affecting Black medical professionals and patients.

Systemic Racism in Medicine: The Impact on Black Doctors and Patients

The underrepresentation of Black physicians in the United States is a longstanding issue that has persisted for over a century. According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), as of 2021, only 5.7% of all active physicians identified as Black or African American, despite making up over 13% of the total U.S. population. This disparity has remained relatively unchanged over time, with the proportion of Black physicians being 1.3% in 1900 compared to 11.6% of the population, 2.8% in 1940 compared to 9.7% of the population, and 5.4% in 2018 compared to 12.8%. Experts point to systemic barriers and a long history of racism and exclusion in medicine as root causes for the shortage of Black doctors relative to population demographics.

Percentage of Black Doctors in America

The Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Medical Education

At the heart of the debate lies the question of how the EDUCATE Act would influence the representation and support of Black students in medical schools and ultimately, the number of Black doctors serving their communities. The bill’s prohibition of DEI offices and statements could significantly reduce institutional efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, creating barriers for Black students facing systemic challenges in accessing and succeeding in medical education. Without these crucial support systems, the disparities in the medical profession could be further exacerbated, leading to a long-term decrease in the number of Black doctors.

Moreover, the restrictions imposed by the EDUCATE Act could alter the educational environment in medical schools, making it less inclusive and welcoming for students from diverse backgrounds. This change could deter Black students from pursuing or succeeding in medical education, as they may face additional obstacles in an environment that fails to acknowledge and address their unique experiences and perspectives. The bill’s potential impact on pipeline programs, designed to encourage and prepare Black students for careers in medicine, is also a cause for concern. If these initiatives are perceived to violate the new rules, they could be undermined, further limiting the pathways for Black students to enter the medical profession.

The Role of Pipeline Programs in Diversifying the Medical Workforce

Pipeline programs play a crucial role in increasing the representation of underrepresented minorities, including Black individuals, in the medical profession. These structured initiatives aim to address various stages of educational development, from elementary school through undergraduate education and are critical for creating a more diverse and culturally competent healthcare workforce. By providing early exposure and fostering interest in the medical field, offering academic preparation and support, and addressing social and economic barriers, pipeline programs help to level the playing field for Black students who aspire to become doctors.

Black Maternal Mortality Crisis: How the EDUCATE Act Could Worsen Disparities

The long-term implications of reduced Black representation in medical schools and the healthcare workforce are alarming, particularly in light of the existing health disparities faced by the Black community. Black patients experience higher rates of chronic diseases, worse health outcomes, and a shocking maternal mortality rate that is three times higher than that of white women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. This disparity is even more pronounced in certain states and under specific conditions, with Black women experiencing maternal mortality rates that are nearly three times higher than those of any other race in the U.S., with a rate of 69.9 per 100,000 live births for 2021.

Black Doctors Matter: Improving Health Outcomes Through Representation and Cultural Competence

Culturally competent care and trust-building between healthcare providers and Black patients are crucial in addressing these disparities, and Black doctors play a vital role in this effort. By providing care sensitive to Black patients’ specific needs and experiences and advocating for underresourced communities, Black physicians contribute to improving health outcomes and advancing health equity. Studies have shown that Black patients often receive better care and have better health outcomes when treated by Black doctors, highlighting the importance of increasing the representation of Black medical professionals.

Implicit Bias in Healthcare: How it Affects Black Patients, Especially Women

The potential impact of the EDUCATE Act on Black women is especially concerning, given the severe crisis of Black maternal mortality in the United States. Black women face significant racial disparities in healthcare, often experiencing implicit bias and discrimination from healthcare providers. This leads to inadequate care, dismissal of symptoms, and poorer health outcomes. Studies consistently show that healthcare providers hold both explicit and implicit racial biases, which can negatively impact the care provided to Black patients, particularly Black women.

One extensive review found over 30 studies documenting racial bias in treatment decisions for cardiovascular disease, with Black patients being less likely to receive appropriate cardiac interventions like angiography and bypass surgery compared to white patients with similar clinical presentations. Other examples of how provider bias impacts care include undertreatment of pain in Black patients, less patient-centered communication, and a higher likelihood of receiving conservative, less effective treatments. Providers spend less time with Black patients and are less likely to engage in shared decision-making. Studies show physicians were 23% more verbally dominant and engaged in 33% less patient-centered communication with African American patients than with White patients.

Increasing the representation of Black women in medicine is essential for addressing these disparities and ensuring that Black female patients receive the high-quality, culturally competent care they deserve.

Confronting Racism in Healthcare: The Need for Structural and Institutional Change

At the core of these issues lies the deeply embedded systemic racism in the U.S. healthcare system, which has led to stark racial disparities in health outcomes, access to care, and quality of treatment. The Black maternal mortality crisis serves as a glaring example of these inequities, with multiple factors contributing to the disparities, including variation in quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias within the healthcare system. Social determinants of health, such as access to quality healthcare, housing, transportation, and food security, further exacerbate these disparities.

Confronting systemic racism in healthcare will require major structural and institutional changes. Efforts are needed to raise awareness of racism in medicine, implement anti-racist policies and practices, diversify the medical workforce, and ultimately dismantle the discriminatory structures and norms entrenched in American healthcare. Collecting race-based health data, issuing equity-focused report cards, and increasing regulatory vigilance may help catalyze reform. However, fully addressing racism’s deep roots in medicine is a long-term undertaking that demands sustained commitment from healthcare leaders and policymakers.

Building an Equitable Healthcare System: A Long-Term Commitment to Dismantling Racism

The EDUCATE Act, while intended to promote fairness and academic excellence, risks undermining years of progress in addressing racial disparities in healthcare. By banning DEI initiatives and restricting efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, the bill could have severe consequences for the medical profession and the Black communities it serves. The urgent need for policies and initiatives that support diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare cannot be overstated. Increasing the representation of Black medical professionals, providing culturally competent care, and dismantling systemic racism are essential steps toward improving health outcomes for all.

As the debate surrounding the EDUCATE Act continues, it is crucial to recognize the long-term commitment required to address the deep-rooted issues of racism in healthcare. This commitment must involve a multifaceted approach, including increasing diversity in the medical workforce, implementing anti-racist policies and practices, and fostering a culture of inclusion and respect within medical institutions. Only by actively working to dismantle systemic racism and promote equity can we hope to build a healthcare system that provides just and equitable care for all patients, regardless of their race or background.

The potential impact of the EDUCATE Act on Black medical professionals and patients serves as a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done to achieve health equity in the United States. As policymakers, healthcare leaders, and communities engage in this critical conversation, it is essential to prioritize the voices and experiences of those who are most affected by these disparities. 

This article was written and researched with the assistance of Perplexity AI.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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