Systemic inequities in society have never been clearer than in recent years, and the COVID crisis has helped force this reality into focus. Neonatologist Dr. Brian Sims has long carried an understanding of how socioeconomic factors impact health outcomes through his professional life. An Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama (Birmingham), Dr. Sims has dedicated himself to human development from its earliest stages. He sits down today to express the essentiality of black doctors in modern medicine.
The Earliest Inequities
Most Americans would be appalled to learn how racism in society can truly impact an individual’s life from birth. In conjunction with his colleagues at the university, Dr. Sims recently produced a sobering report on the nation’s infant mortality rates by race. The comprehensive study specifically examined infant mortality rates among black babies along with the race of the caring physician. Disturbingly, these rates reflect a lower level of care for babies born to black parents when attended to by doctors outside of their own ethnicity.
Clearing the Air
While the raw numbers from the study are cause to consider the impact of inequality on institutions, Dr. Sims cautions against blanket judgments. In his words, the goal for black mothers is always to find an outstanding physician regardless of their ethnicity. However, he places the onus on doctors to remain communicative and clear throughout the prenatal process. Patient comfort is integral to the treatment equation, and excellence in these matters is something that must be demanded of every medical professional.
Despite great strides in the medical field for both black doctors and black patients, the specter of racism continues to haunt the profession. Asked to dispel any myths that linger in the field, Dr. Sims points to a recent study that indicates that pain tolerance among black patients is perceived as higher. Racist beliefs such as these facilitate inadequate care, less consistent outcomes, and a lower quality of care for black patients. His conclusion is striking in its simplicity: any patient that exhibits a given symptom should be treated the same way.
While a plethora of policies should at least in theory prevent disparate health outcomes like these, there are hard limits for policy in practice. Dr. Sims highlights the uncomfortable truth that it is impossible to provide the most effective care for people you lack care for. He emphasizes the importance of individual integrity to enduring progress on this front. Doctors should be interacting with the communities they serve from the first stages of training. By humanizing those who may one day be patients, a higher standard of care comes naturally.
Rebirth and Redemption
Dr. Sims stops short of calling the results of his research an indictment of the medical field in America. For this consummate medical professional, the ideal lies in ensuring a consistent standard of care for every patient. Like justice, medicine should be blind. The work he and his colleagues do is aimed at correcting oversights, conscious or subconscious, that may affect patient outcomes. By promoting a fuller understanding of inclusivity in medicine, Dr. Brian Sims strives to build confidence in the medical field among all Americans.
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