Even though some time has passed since slavery was abolished and since blacks were given equal rights, we’re still seeing vestiges of discrimination all over the place. Of course, most of the time it’s not anything conscious, and it’s not even necessarily demeaning, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the entire country still has some prejudices related to how black people function.
Yes, there are still prejudices about how they function, as according to a study from the University of Virginia, many doctors undertreat black people for pain due to racial bias. The disturbing findings resulted from a research performed on 222 University of Virginia white medical students.
Participants in the study ranged from first-year students to residents, so at least some of them were actually treating patients at the time of the study. They all completed their participation in class and attended the same school. All of them were offered fifteen statements about medical differences between whites and blacks, which they had to rate as various degrees of true or false.
Out of the fifteen statements, four were actually true (blacks have stronger bones than whites, they are more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke, and are less likely to develop spinal cord diseases). False questions revolved around whether black people had a better sense of smell, stronger immune systems, smaller brains, and of course, about how they felt pain.
A surprising number of the students got plenty of questions wrong, with one resident, fourteen percent of the third year students, and eight percent of the first year students believing that black people’s nerve endings were more resistant to pain. A subsequent trial had the students analyze two case files and rate their pain, with most participants responding that the white patient with a broken ankle was in more pain than the black patient with a kidney stone.
It’s not all bad
Even if the study was observational, not proof of a direct cause-effect relationship between racial bias and undertreating black patients, particularly for pain, there is still a connection there. And it’s definitely related to false beliefs. But false beliefs don’t necessarily translate into less effective treatment, as seen by the other students and doctors that don’t differentiate between their patients.
For example, the medical students that embraced none of the false beliefs about the physiological differences between people of different races actually appeared to have the reversed bias, considering white people to be in less pain than the black ones. However, unlike their prejudicial counterparts, that did not translate into the treatment, with them recommending the same levels of pain relievers to their patients.
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