Racial bias in healthcare can often result in people of color receiving decreased quality of care. However, finding an anti-racist doctor can help ensure that healthcare needs do not go unheard.

For people of color and Black people especially, systemic racism has made the U.S. healthcare system unequal. This has created a barrier when it comes to accessing safe and quality healthcare, resulting in higher rates of illness and death from preventable conditions.

For example, Black women are 3 times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy than white women. Indigenous people have a lower life expectancy of 4.4 years than the larger population. Asian Americans are less likely to receive a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder than white people, even if they share the same symptoms.

Removing these disparities and getting better health equity for all involves the reeducation of healthcare professionals through an anti-racist and compassionate approach.

Anti-racism in healthcare begins with doctors who have identified that they may hold racial biases but are actively working to challenge and remove disparities when delivering care in a way that considers a person’s diverse needs.

Adult holding an infant as they speak with a pediatrician. Share on Pinterest
The Good Brigade/Getty Images

People often speak with a doctor during some of the most vulnerable and challenging times in their lives. It is important to feel safe and supported during these moments.

Here are several green flags to look out for when finding an anti-racist doctor:

They listen to your concerns

Everyone should feel that they can manage their healthcare. When speaking with a doctor, it is vital that they listen to concerns and take symptoms, such as pain levels, seriously.

They offer culturally sensitive care

When deciding on a treatment plan, a doctor should be willing to consider cultural needs, such as discussing any dietary requirements you have or traditional remedies you use.

They make medical decisions with you, not for you

Anecdotally, some people of color report that healthcare professionals decide on their primary treatment method without speaking with them first. This can mean that doctors only offer one treatment option, which may not work or meet their needs.

A doctor should be open to discussing the various options available and welcome input when deciding on a treatment plan.

They understand that your symptoms may present differently

Some health conditions, such as skin conditions, can present differently for people of color. For example, symptoms such as bruises or eczema may be harder to see on darker skin tones.

If a healthcare professional does not consider this, it can lead to a missed diagnosis.

When looking for an anti-racist doctor, using search tools and databases that health equity organizations manage can often be helpful. They provide ways to help people connect with healthcare professionals who understand the diverse healthcare needs of people of color.

Examples include:

  • Skin of Color Society, to find a dermatologist who specializes in treating skin of color
  • Clinicians of Color, to find a culturally-sensitive therapist for people of color
  • HUED, to find a culturally sensitive specialist in any health area for Black, Latin@, and Indigenous people
  • Health In Her Hue, to find a culturally sensitive specialist in any health area for women of color

For people of color, and Black people especially, accessing safe and effective healthcare can be challenging. Some may fear that doctors will ignore their medical needs, leading to decreased quality of care.

Several factors can contribute to these disparities, including inadequate equity and diversity training for medical professionals and a lack of diverse doctors.

The Association of American Medical Colleges collects data about active physicians in the United States. The table below shows the data from 2021:

Active physicians by racePercentage
Black or African American5.7%
American Indian or Alaska Native0.3%

A lack of physician diversity may worsen health outcomes for people of color. A 2022 study suggested that when doctors treat people of the same race, it can lead to higher levels of quality healthcare and patient satisfaction.

Some people of color may feel more comfortable receiving treatment from doctors of their own race or ethnicity. Receiving care from someone who looks like you does not automatically mean you will have a better health outcome. However, it is important that you have a doctor you trust, feel safe with, and who understands your community.

Finding an anti-racist doctor may not always be accessible. It may involve asking for a second opinion, or traveling out of state, which can be expensive and time consuming.

In these instances, it can be helpful to learn how to advocate for yourself to ensure you can get the best care possible.

The following are examples of ways you can advocate for yourself in healthcare settings:

  • Prepare your questions: During a doctor’s appointment, you may not be able to think of all the questions you want to ask. Preparing a list beforehand can help ensure you get what you need from your appointment.
  • Take someone with you: It can often be helpful to bring a loved one, such as a friend or family member, to your appointment. This may help you feel more comfortable and supported when voicing any concerns about your health or the treatment you are receiving.
  • Identify your desired outcome: It is important to remember that you do not have to agree to the first treatment option the doctor recommends. Instead, it can be helpful to take some time to understand what an ideal outcome would look like for you and make the doctor aware of this. Together, you can decide on the best treatment.
  • Ask for a language interpreter: If you feel more comfortable speaking in a language besides English, do not hesitate to ask for an interpreter.

If you feel dismissed by a doctor, consider asking them to add your concerns to your record. This can help hold the doctor accountable for any medical decisions they have made and bring it to the attention of other doctors who may look at your notes. It may also cause them to revisit the concerns you have raised.

Finding safe, equitable, and high quality healthcare should not be the person’s responsibility. However, racial bias in U.S. healthcare has often meant that people of color, and Black people especially, receive inadequate care, leading to a higher rate of illness and death from preventable conditions.

Racism is a public health crisis. Until health authorities remove the disparities, it may benefit people of color to seek out anti-racist doctors when possible and learn how to advocate for themselves to ensure their needs do not go unmet.