Do People of Colour Face Racism in the Health Care System?

Marcia Sirota
4 min readJun 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter protests are continuing into their second week with no signs of abating. And that’s a good thing. It reminds me of the #Time’sUp and #MeToo movement, when things reached a tipping point and there was no turning back. No-one could pretend any longer that there wasn’t a real problem and that things absolutely had to change. The same has happened since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

As a white woman of privilege, I see this moment as an opportunity to listen and to learn, about my own implicit biases and my own assumptions; about all that I take for granted in my own life, and about the lived experiences of people who don’t happen to look like me.

It’s also important to speak out in the best way I can, by using my platform to address the impact of racism on health and health care.

Racial bias in health care

Faiza Amin wrote in CityNews online in 2019 about how racial bias had reached a tipping point in the Canadian health care system, documenting the horrifying story of John River who was treated with contempt at multiple hospitals, as he unsuccessfully sought care over a period of two months for a serious medical condition.

Ms. Amin wrote an earlier article in 2018, documenting the case of Serena Thompson, a black woman with sickle cell disorder, who worried less about how she was feeling during a medical crisis and more about whether she’d be able to receive the appropriate pain medication treatment, because she’d had so many experiences as being labeled and then dismissed as drug-seeking.

Jake Miller wrote an article in Harvard Medicine about implicit bias and the way that people of colour receive poorer medical care than non-racialized populations. Mr. Miller writes that a study done in 1993 and published in JAMA showed that Latinos with a broken limb were “two times less likely to get pain medicine in a Los Angeles emergency department than whites with similar injuries.”

This same article mentions a 2003 report about racial and ethnic disparities in health care, and quotes the authors of the report as saying that “bias, prejudice, and stereotyping on the part of healthcare providers may contribute to differences in care.”

Hanna’s 10-year fight for care

Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series