Prevent Subconscious Racial Profiling by Medical Staff


Target: James L. Madara, MD, CEO & Executive Vice President, American Medical Association

Goal: Train doctors and nurses to prevent subconscious racial profiling.

Research shows that many doctors and nurses still treat black and Latino patients with the same bias medical staff exhibited 50 years ago. Experts believe this is an unconscious human behavior, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences is calling for additional studies.

Whether doctors and nurses realize it or not, there is disparity in healthcare given to white versus black patients. Studies show that white patients are prescribed pain medication when needed more often than black patients, and black patients suffering from chest pain are less likely to be referred to a cardiac specialist.

Dr. Rene Salazar, who leads a workshop for University of California at San Francisco first-year medical students, admits he was shocked to find himself stuck in the racial-profiling trap. Students must take an “implicit associate test” prior to Salazar’s workshop, a test Salazar admits he failed. In fact, 75 percent of the test takers demonstrate a preference for white patients without even realizing it.

Salazar, a Mexican-American who grew up in ethnically diverse south Texas, believes he subconsciously profiled black patients because of what he saw in the media growing up, and the data suggests that most of us do racially profile others.

Salazar’s workshop addresses humans’ inherent nature toward bias, and unlike other unsuccessful bias training, he focuses on acknowledging it so students can then manage it before they enter the medical field. Jane Lazarre, a white woman in a biracial marriage, would have appreciated this training when medical personnel unnecessarily kept her black son sedated because they feared him.

Racial profiling has no business in medical care where people’s lives depend on equal and effective treatment. Demand all medical students and personnel be required to enroll in regular, mandatory diversity training to learn how to manage their racial bias when caring for patients.


Dear Dr. Madera,

Studies confirm that black and Latino patients are not treated equally in medical facilities, and this must be stopped. Racial profiling is inherent in human behavior, but doctors and nurses have an obligation to all patients, regardless of race or ethnicity, per their Hippocratic Oath. A black patient suffering from cardiac trouble should receive the same care a white patient does, and this isn’t happening.

We can manage human behavior, and all medical personnel must manage their propensity, subconscious or not, to profile racially. It is the only way to ensure that all patients are treated equally.

Currently, there is a workshop conducted at the University of California in San Francisco designed to give first-year medical students the tools necessary for identifying subconscious bias and managing it. All medical personnel should be required to participate in these workshops, and those who exhibit excessive prejudice should be required to enroll in additional therapies.

We cannot claim that our healthcare system is the best in the world when our patients are not being treated equally. Make initial and ongoing diversity training mandatory for all medical personnel and stop prejudice in U.S. healthcare.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: National Cancer Institute

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