As medical students, we recognize that bias in medicine is doubly damaging: it burdens our peers and it harms our patients. In the opening narratives we see both of these at play: in Micaela’s self-doubt and frustration, and in the intern’s judgment of their older, Latina patient. Such clinician bias has been increasingly shown to contribute to widespread health inequities.
Yet, in medicine we learn bias like we learn the physical exam: deliberately – and then automatically – until it becomes fixed in our muscle memory.
Research encourages providers to discriminate between Black and non-Black patients when treating high blood pressure, misleadingly confounding race – a social construct, not a biological trait – with clinical outcomes. Our textbooks show cystic fibrosis on white bodies and syphilis on black bodies, priming us to look for certain diseases in certain skin palettes. We learn exam maneuvers and tests, like the Allen’s test for parallel circulation to the hand, that only work on white bodies. Through this process, we learn that race-based bias is acceptable and appropriate.
Read the full article originally published in The Huffington Post