As a Black ob-gyn physician with over three decades of clinical experience, I exhaled with relief after reading Tonya Russell’s article, Mortality for Black Babies is Cut in Half When Delivered by Black Doctors, et al. Finally, someone has told our truth. The evidence was always there; however, no one took the interest or time to publish it. Thank you, Dr. Rachel Hardeman.
Obstetrics is a specialty of the unexpected. A woman’s uneventful prenatal course can quickly transform into an emergency during labor or delivery. Babies have a unique way of announcing their time of arrival in the most harrowing and unforgettable manner. Their heart rate drops precipitously, as evidenced on their fetal monitor. Or mom’s blood pressure suddenly rises to alarming levels of panic. Do we treat the condition, or do we deliver? That is the ultimate decision faced by an obstetrician.
Pregnancy is often the first time a Black woman sees a physician for a myriad of reasons. The later her entrance to care, the more complicated her pregnancy becomes.
Are Black obstetricians more skilled than their non-black counterparts? Probably not, but we are well versed in the dynamics of being Black and living in a society filled with contradictions and uneven playing fields. The journey is arduous for us as well as our patients.
I never assume that my Black patients will trust me simply because of our mutual ethnicity. The MD behind my name carries many unwritten responsibilities. Yes, I am a physician, but I am also a former resident of the same public housing project as the billionaire, Jay-Z. I know struggle.
Healthcare disparities in obstetrics are real, dangerous, and cause unnecessary stillbirths and death. The number of Black physicians in the U.S. has not changed in 30 years, for glaring reasons.
At present, in some states, medical schools are not held accountable for increasing admission rates of future black physicians unless they face the threat of losing their accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). In other words, either you have to shame them or threaten the loss of their existence for them to do the right thing.
Can I be brutally honest (with no disrespect to my brown brothers and sisters)? Blacks and Latinos represent 5% of the U.S. physician workforce but represent 13.4% and 18.3% of the U.S. population, respectively. Conversely, other minority groups represent 17% of the physician workforce but approximately 1.2% of the U.S. population. However, having brown people in their institutions is not equivalent to having Black cultural competence, nor does it move the dial of reducing healthcare disparities in the right direction.
Yes, Black doctors do cut infant mortality in half, but you know what? It sure would be nice if there were more of us available to do the job.