Medical schools need to teach aspiring doctors that their unconscious biases affect patients’ lives, says a Manhattan City Council member.
“Our medical providers … had previously been taught myths in order to justify slavery,” Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said at a hearing this week. “We need them to train that that is not only no longer true, but people must be aware of how it affects them in their day-to-day medical practice.”
Rosenthal, who represents much of the Upper West Side, said the city can’t force med schools to include training on implicit bias — a term social scientists use to describe racial and other kinds of bias we aren’t aware of.
So she’s pushing for the council to pass a resolution calling on state lawmakers to mandate implicit bias training.
“The systematic discrimination that is ingrained into our society has this terrible effect on anyone who’s not a white male,” said Rosenthal, who chairs the Committee on Women and Gender Equity.
Data show the danger to patients. Government data reported in March show that across New York state, black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.
For black women, the maternal mortality rate was 51.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014, according to stats cited by the New York State Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes. For white women, the rate was 15.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The grim stats mirror nationwide trends, both in terms of racial disparities and an alarming increase in maternal mortality — the rate has more than doubled over the past 15 years.
Experts agree that racism is one of the reasons for the horrifying discrepancy.
The Brooklyn Perinatal Network has been on the front lines of the crisis.
“Certain women get treated differently just because of the color of their skin or because English is not their first language,” said Denise West, the organization’s deputy executive director.
The network provides a variety of services to Brooklyn moms, with the mission of reducing maternal and infant mortality.
West said clients are relentlessly subjected to biases in the healthcare industry.
“We have many women [who] often talk about how they’re treated, how they’re not respected,” she said, saying many women of color are coerced into procedures with which they’re not comfortable.
West lauded the proposal to make med students undergo implicit bias training, saying, “Individuals do not recognize how deeply rooted their biases are and how the type of care they will provide is influenced by their bias.”
That’s why every medical student in the state should get training to fight latent racism, Rosenthal says.
Last year, the de Blasio administration launched a $12.8 million plan to reduce maternal deaths among women of color. Steps include working with public and private care providers to expand their workers’ training on implicit bias.
Rosenthal cheered the initiative, but said more needs to be done.
She’s still working on her proposal, and plans to expand it to cover additional groups, including transgender people and individuals with disabilities.