Contrary to popular belief, racism isn’t always associated with abuse or harassment. It can take many forms, such as name-calling, racist jokes, or excluding particular individuals from a group simply because of their color or ethnicity.
It’s not just people’s actions or behaviors that can reveal racism, but various institutions and systems may also reflect it.
Like it does in several other sectors of our everyday lives, racial discrimination also permeates the healthcare systems. This prejudice is even prevalent in developed countries, like the United States.
Consequently, it has significant negative impacts on both patients and medical professionals. These include higher risks of contracting certain illnesses, the strain on mental health, and lower standards of care for people of color.
However, healthcare institutions are powerful organizations. Besides providing lifesaving care, they hold considerable political clout in their local communities. They help people, so people look up to them when they make a statement.
That’s why addressing racial injustice in the healthcare system is crucial because it plays a significant role in how individuals perceive those different from them – especially if you are a college student studying in this field.
If you want to fight racial discrimination once you are out in the workforce, implement these five ways to combat racism in healthcare.
1. Support Your Workforce
The backbone of any healthcare industry is its workforce. Unfortunately, for most non-native individuals, racism is not a new experience.
Whether it’s from patients or coworkers, they often have to face racial slurs and inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
Since various healthcare workers work at different positions in a facility, you must address all discriminatory actions before they end in dire consequences.
For example, recognizing implicit bias in nursing can prevent poor quality of care and clinical judgments made by a professional.
As employers, you must safeguard, support, and invest in people of color and the indigenous staff within your team.
Encourage managers and facility directors to remain in active-listening mode with all employees—regardless of their race or ethnicity.
You can also include racism in your institute’s zero-tolerance policies to prevent discrimination on a broader scale.
2. Recruit an All-Inclusive Workforce
It’s often challenging for people of color to access equitable healthcare facilities. Disparities in the system pose moral and ethical social injustices while losing efforts to improve the country’s health and manage escalating costs.
With an increasingly diverse patient population, the workforce needs to be just as diverse to understand and provide appropriate care to every individual.
Although the workforce has become more diverse in recent years, most people of color in the healthcare industry remain at entry-level and other low-paying jobs.
Despite being overqualified and aptly skilled, management often overlooks them for leadership and administrative roles.
Therefore, you must forge strategies that provide equitable access to career resources and modify promotion criteria to be more transparent.
Studies have shown that institutions with a culturally diverse workforce outperform other facilities considerably.
3. Understand Your Patients Better
The primary objective of healthcare systems is to serve humanity and help people live longer and healthier lives. But to truly deliver on this goal, you must first address the prevailing inequities in the patient population.
The quickest and most efficient way to do this is by collecting data that can help you better understand racial disparities in the community.
By routinely conducting race-specific surveys and gathering relevant information, you can demonstrate the scope of inequities to staff or board members.
It can also provide valuable insights that influence the higher-ups to make operational changes and identify blind spots in awareness or prevention campaigns.
It may feel like changing the healthcare system and structure is out of your control, but what’s not—is clinical interaction with the patients.
You can train staff and health professionals to identify areas where bias may arise, even unintentionally, and strategize ways to mitigate them.
4. Influence the Community
Healthcare organizations have the unique opportunity to support and influence change beyond their immediate staff and patients.
As trusted members of society, they substantially affect how individuals perceive certain situations.
You can use this leverage to speak about discrimination you see in healthcare and advocate for change. Depending on how much prestige you hold in the community, you can work individually by allowing clinicians to share their opinions or participate in protests.
You can also advocate for amendments in local and federal policies to help communities and increase tolerance among individuals at the systemic level.
5. Examine Policies with an Equity Lens
An equity lens refers to a set of questions institutes must ask when planning, developing or evaluating particular programs, policies, or decisions. It helps identify potential impact on under-served and marginalized communities to recognize and eliminate barriers.
The sole purpose of an equity lens is to ensure all decisions are deliberately inclusive and to strive for more equitable outcomes.
It seeks to eliminate disparities in students from underserved and underrepresented populations, so they have an equal chance of succeeding in their academic and professional careers.
Increasing the success of all racial, ethnic, and indigenous populations can significantly improve the healthcare sector. It induces tolerance among the community by accepting each other’s differences and celebrating them.
The most important role you can play in combating racism in healthcare is staying committed.
Putting accountability metrics into place may help ensure that racial discrimination is not just a conversation for today but something to revisit regularly.
Because if there’s ever going to be a time to make a difference, it’s now.