Arapahoe Community College (ACC) staff hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday to examine anti-Black bias in the medical field and the importance of recruiting Black professionals into the healthcare industry.
Part of ACC’s Black History Month programming, the discussion featured Dr. Jennifer Price, an OB/GYN with Kaiser Permanente, and Lynn Hoskins and Robin Bruce with the Colorado Council of Black Nurses, Inc (CCBN). Dayriana Sanders, a recent graduate of ACC’s nursing program, spearheaded the event and moderated the discussion.
Sanders opened with a short video on the history of anti-Black racism in medicine that has sowed longstanding mistrust of healthcare system. In the 19th century, for example, Dr. J. Marion Sims conducted gynecological experiments on enslaved women without their consent. Tens of thousands of Black women, including Fannie Lou Hamer, were subjected to forced hysterectomies throughout the 1900s, according to Vox.
Though difficult, parsing this history can help Black patients and their providers better understand Black experiences within the healthcare system, Dr. Price said.
“Black patients can feel gaslighted,” she said. “We have a lot of medical problems, and yet we might not feel safe going to the doctor. Now we may understand why we don’t feel safe—that we’re not crazy, and that the things that we are experiencing are real.”
Hoskins, who’s been a nurse in Colorado since the 1980s, said many patients fear disclosing important health information for fear of being judged or stereotyped. And other historic tropes, like the “strong Black woman,” can cause providers to underestimate their patients’ pain or behavioral health needs, Dr. Price said.
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To chip away at these systemic issues, all three panelists said it’s crucial to grow the ranks of Black nurses and doctors.
“We really need to see more [Black] faces reflected,” said Hoskins. “When I would go to middle schools and to talk to students who were interested in healthcare, they would say, ‘Oh wow, there are Black nurses!’ It has to start a young age.”
Bruce, the president of the CCBN, agreed. “We’re looking for those numbers to increase,” she said. “That is a purpose of the organization: to matriculate, graduate and elevate to that bachelor’s in nursing and above.”
Five community colleges, including Arapahoe Community College, offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), and 10 offer an associate degree. The Colorado legislature is also considering a bill that would create a streamlined pathway to BSN specifically for Licensed Practical Nurses.
Producing more Black nurses will not only improve outcomes for patients of color—it also helps other healthcare workers become more empathetic and effective in their roles, Dr. Price said.
“The patients on the other side need you more than anyone else. They need someone who can see them, see what they’re dealing with and honor their humanity. And perhaps teach their colleagues how to recognize their biases as well so they can also hold a safe space. That’s how we really address healthcare disparities.”