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To Quell Health Disparities, We Have to Do More Than Hire Black Doctors

The health disparities between Black and brown people and white people in the U.S. are well known. Racial disparities in health care leave Black and brown people with higher rates of several illnesses — including asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, and more. Many have highlighted the importance of having more Black doctors to improve health outcomes. But a new study shows that’s only half the battle.

Graduate Center Ph.D. student Irina Mindlis and her fellow researchers found that Black and Latinx/Hispanic adults were less likely to complete studies of respiratory illnesses when they were recruited by Black and Latinx/Hispanic researchers.

“It was completely shocking to us because it’s the opposite of what we were expecting. All the literature on patient-physician relationships show that people are more likely to show up for a follow-up visit with their physician is of the same racial or ethnic group as them,” Mindlis says.

The study did not address the cause of the outcome, but Mindlis says racism within the medical field has likely impacted Black and brown’s people own perception of doctors — even those that look like them.

“I think there are two things that could explain the results. One is this pattern we see a lot where physicians and researchers who are racial or ethnic minorities in the U.S. report a lot more microaggressions or not being taken as seriously as their white colleagues by patients,” she says.

“I think there could also be internalized racism. I think there’s something in encountering someone who looks like you who might lead some participants to think, ‘This is not a serious enough study.’”

She says the issue lies not with the participants, but the researchers.

“All the research on differential attrition has always focused on, ‘What is it about the participants that make them more likely to drop out?’” Mindlis explains. “But it’s nothing about the participants themselves that make them more likely to be engaged or not engaged in research. It’s about the relationship. So the onus is on the research team, as the people who really hold the power in the research study, to engage the participant.”