It can be difficult to find a black medical provider who is part of a patient’s insurance network, works nearby, and accepts new patients.
Only 3% of active physicians are black women.
Dr. Monique Smith practices in Atlanta. Dr. Ijeoma Opara practices in Detroit. In their cities, they are fighting an issue that plays out in nearly every city and town in America. They are not represented in their profession.
âI didn’t know what it meant to be a doctor. I didn’t know what the path looked like. I didn’t know what education was like. Those are all things I had to learn,â Smith said.
Black Americans represent more than 13% of the population, but only five percent of physicians.
âWhen you look and see that women are three to four times more likely if they are black to die from complications in childbirth. When you think about the fact that diabetes and hypertension are not only two or three times more likely to be diagnosed in black communities, we are also two to three times more likely to die from these conditions, you have to wonder. where this is coming from.” said Smith.
âWe are in a big society, but not for everyone, right? We know that when black people and black women are specifically the doctors in cases involving black patients, black patients live and they do better,â Opara said.
A University of Pennsylvania study found that when a physician and patient were of the same race/ethnicity and gender, the patient had a more positive experience.
Yet regardless of city, black Americans â especially black women â have had no place in shaping these experiences.
âWhen you think about where medicine starts from our point of reference, it’s the idea of ââa 154-pound white man. This is how we judge automatically. This is how we were judged for clinical trials. That’s how we built the whole canon that we teach the next generation and all the previous generations about how to practice medicine,â Smith said.
A century ago, almost no black female doctors existed. Today, there are more black female doctors than black male doctors. But that’s about the only gap that’s been closed. In the room, voices are still struggling to shine.
Smith said it’s really hard, especially these days, to be in the medical community and see some of the atrocities that happen to people of color and not just black people, but across the spectrum.
“And being someone who talks and when you talk you get fired as well,” she said. “So not only are patients being fired, but sometimes some of our learners are being fired.”
Opara is hopeful for change.
âThere is an opportunity to backtrack,â she said. “There is an opportunity to make a change.”
Opara and Smith spoke about creating change from within, but they also spoke about raising awareness outside.
Smith helped launch Culture Care, which connects black women with like-minded doctors. Other sites list directories of doctors across the country.
âThis country is going to have a shortage of doctors and we certainly have a disproportionate number of doctors if you look at the demographics. So we have to find a way to make room,” Smith said.