GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 1

This is a guest post by LauraAnn Schmidberger, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Tetrad Graduate Program

Assuming that the color of someone’s skin explains their life history seems ridiculous when it’s phrased that way, but it is easy to see how doctors can fall into the trap of using racial categories in their practice, especially given the pressure to assess their patients quickly. This article made me think of racial profiling—it is understandable that authorities would want a quick way to identify potential suspects, but to conflate race with the likelihood of committing a crime is inappropriate. Race is a much less important factor in both community safety and medicine than socioeconomic, geographic, and familial backgrounds. The author makes it clear that while taking the time to understand a patient’s background may not be as rapid, it is ultimately more efficient, because it will lead to fewer misdiagnoses.  False assumptions about a patient’s condition based on their outward appearance increases the time it takes for an accurate diagnosis, which in the worst cases can be deadly. A country largely segregated by not only race but also geography and socioeconomic status became a country in which the three were conflated and each race was assumed homogenous, when in reality our communities have never been more diverse. Each person has a unique background, and “if a physician simply diagnoses ‘race,’” that background, including “environmental exposures, family histories, the stress of dealing with racism, access to and quality of care [,] may be left unexamined.”

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