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The Search for Black Doctors

EMILY SCHUTZ, HOST: To find the best medical care, patients often seek out highly recommended specialists in hospitals.

DAVID MARQUES, HOST: For Black Americans, having an African American doctor can mean there are aspects of their care that they know will be fully considered. But, as David Newtown reports, finding a Black doctor can be difficult.

DAVID NEWTOWN, BYLINE: Dara Thurmond is 36. She works in Manhattan as a Registered Nurse. She’s planning on having a second kid, but she says, because she’s Black, she wants to find an OBGYN who is also Black. She’s succeeded before, but her old doctors are no longer covered by her insurance.

DARA THURMOND: I went to the provider list, through my health insurance online, and had been, like, scrolling and looking at the names of the doctors trying to see which name looks like it's “ethnic,” which is kind of weird to say, then Googling the doctor's name.

NEWTOWN: Thurmond says she does all this to make sure she finds a doctor who is aware of all of the health issues she could face as a Black woman…especially a pregnant one. For example, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.

THURMOND: It's very, very important to me to have a doctor who looks like me who understands my concerns, who I feel will listen to me.

NEWTOWN: Though fifteen percent of New York’s population identifies as Black or African American, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, only five percent of practicing physicians in the state do the same. In Georgia and Maryland, states with high percentages of Black residents, it can be easier to find a Black physician. But in Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho, where the Black population is low, there are fewer than 50 Black or African American doctors in each state. Either way, the odds can be stacked against Black patients. Dr. Deirdre Foreman teaches Africana Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

DR. DEIRDRE FOREMAN: Historically, you know, poor health and wellness have been prevalent in the African American community. The root is health disparities.

NEWTOWN: Disparities derive from many sources: discrimination, social inequalities, even poor self-care in regards to mental health. These issues can all make accessing proper health care difficult for Black people. Foreman says it’s important for doctors and patients to have shared lived experiences.

FOREMAN: You know, for example, racism causes stress. So, if you are being treated by an African American physician, and you are African American yourself, perhaps that physician can understand and better relate to the fact that, yes, that is a valid, you know, cause of stress, I perhaps have experienced that racism myself, so I can identify with what it is that you’re saying.

NEWTOWN: The importance of shared identity is echoed by Black doctors themselves. Dr. Tracy K. Paul is a cardiologist at Weill-Cornell Medicine on the east side. As a Black doctor, she says that’s why she chose her specialty.

DR. TRACY K. PAUL: Black patients in particular carry a huge heart disease burden and so I felt you know, with this specialty, I was able to explore more, you know, my interest in health equity, and in, just my interest of being of service to my community.

NEWTOWN: That shared sense of identity is what Thurmond says she wants in a Black doctor. Luckily for her, she didn’t end up searching long.

THURMOND: I actually kind of, like, lucked out with my search, where it only took me one day to find what I was looking for. Okay, this looks like a Black name for a doctor. Let me search to see if I could find a picture, found a picture and then was able to schedule an appointment with her.

NEWTOWN: Thurmond still has one more step before she’s done. She needs to see if she likes the doctor she found.

David Newtown, Columbia Radio News.


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