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The Paper Gown: How to Make Healthcare Anti-Racist

By Tamorah Lewis, MD

As the neonatologist on call in the NICU, I go to meet the mother of a new preterm infant who’s struggling to survive on mechanical ventilation. The specifics of the case played a role in the infant being born at just 24 weeks old. Yet, while standing at the patient’s bedside, I cannot help but feel a deep sadness as I ponder the broader societal risk factors for this Black mother-infant pair. Due largely to the cumulative effects of structural racism, Black women deliver preterm more frequently than other women, and Black infants have more than twice the infant mortality rate of other racial groups. While these statistics might seem abstract to some, the sick, tiny infant in the isolette in front of me makes them all too salient.

Between racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes and the national awakening to the impact of police brutality in the Black community, the concept of anti-racism is quickly gaining traction in areas where it’s been needed all along.

But racism is woven into the fabric of every facet of society, including medicine, and it self-perpetuates. Either the medical field works to become actively anti-racist, or we stay complicit and make it clear we’ve chosen the other option.

We have an abundance of research on racial disparities in health and healthcare. Studies tell us over and over that Black Americans disproportionately suffer chronic diseases that shorten life spans. Studies reveal that medical trainees believe Black people have thicker skin and are less sensitive to pain; studies thoroughly document the ways in which Black patients’ pain is misdiagnosed, mistreated and outright ignored.

There are multiple ways in which the current medical system is not supporting minoritized medical students and physicians, and there are multiple ways that the system is failing minoritized patients. We have the anti-racism tools needed to correct these problems. The question remains: Does the medical field have the bravery and the will to implement anti-racist practices to measurably improve the system? We can step up or we can stay complicit. There’s no third option.


Read the full article via The Paper Gown

Learn more about Dr. Lewis's research at Children's Mercy