A Medical Emergency: Racial Disparities in Healthcare

My mother gave birth to her seventh and final child almost five years ago. While in labor, the nurses were careless with her body — in my mothers words, “They made me feel like a guinea pig.” The hospital let doctors-in-training — students— practice on my mother, a pregnant lady in her 40s. The inexperienced nurse pricked my mother’s arm with the IV many times because she couldn’t find the vein, failed to properly insert the epidural, then neglected to call the doctors when my mother was starting to have contractions. The mistreatment of my middle-aged Mexican-American mother in the hospital, where she was supposed to feel safe and taken care of, will never fail to make my blood boil. 

My father has lived with a hernia for years because he did not have health insurance and wasn’t able to afford surgery to get it fixed. He works a 9-5 manual labor job 6 days a week and it’s surely not easy with his injuries. The pain he must go through daily is maddening and makes me so bent out of shape thinking about it.

My parents’ stories are not unique. Many people of color, especially black men and women, experience similar occurrences all over America. These anecdotes are proof of the racial disparities that exist in healthcare.

The truth is that racial discrmination is present and alive, notably in the medical field. Ignorant people feign oblivion or say, “This is 2022, no one thinks like that anymore.” But until black women stop dying in labor at rates three times as high as white women, it’s safe to say people still “think like that” and act like it too. They’ll say we’re being dramatic while people of color are literally dying or facing severe injuries at the hands of our heroes — doctors who are indifferent to the voices of marginalized people. 

In 2016, only 6 years ago, researchers found that pregnant black women die from hemorrhage twice as often as white women do. Studies show that over 50% of low income non-citizen immigrants do not have health insurance. In regards to medical racial disparity, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) stated, “some people in the United States were more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes simply because of their race or ethnicity, not just because they lack access to healthcare.” This shows how some people aren’t receiving the quality healthcare they need, because they merely exist as marginalized people.

I dread having to worry about whether or not I’m getting the best quality healthcare just because of my ethnicity or the way my last name sounds. I don’t want my mother to fear that the discrmination she faced will be something I will eventually have to face as well. I am tired of hearing about people who look like me or face similar adversities as me, being mistreated by the people who are supposed to keep us healthy and help us thrive.

We as people of color face enough challenges with the police, ICE and the constant persecution from the leaders of our country. We should be able to go to the doctor and breathe easy in the examination chair. Black women should not have to dread yearly check ups. Immigrants should not have to work extra shifts just to be able to afford a trip to the doctors office. This needs to stop. 

So what are some ways to stop racial disparities in healthcare? Well for starters, awareness. As I said before, ignorant people feign oblivion. However, some aren’t pretending. Some people who don’t know any better truly are ignorant. Many white people have the privilege of being unaware of the struggles of people of color, simply because they don’t have the same experiences. They don’t face what we face and therefore don’t see, and are not aware of what we go through. Making our hardships widely known is the first step to getting acknowledgement from the people in power who are allowing this to continue happening.

Another way to reduce discrimination in healthcare is diversity. According to the Census Bureau, white hospital attendants take up the majority with a 63% of hospital staff in America being caucasian. More opportunities for medical roles for people of color can ensure that their patients get the quality healthcare they deserve. Also, it can create a better atmosphere in hospitals. Patients of different cultures, religions, races, and/or linguistic background will feel a stronger sense of inclusion, and have their needs met by people who can actually understand their needs.

Racial disparity in the medical field is a huge issue that we as Americans all need to acknowledge and address before the issue gets worse. Hopefully by spreading awareness and implementing more diversity in hospitals, we can reduce the number of people of color who die or are injured by the reckless hands of an unconcerned system.

Ava Avila – St. Ignatius College Prep – DMSF Class of 2026

Image Credit: Adobe Stock