A viral tweet by a Black medical school student has drawn attention to the prevalence of racism in the professional field of medicine and healthcare.
In particular, the medical student, identified as Joel Bervell, used social media to address “the myth that Black people have thicker skin than other races.” He said he made a video about such medical racism and placed a spotlight on one response from “a practicing nurse” who revealed her apparent implicit biases when it comes to patients of a darker hue.
“Black skin is definitely thicker than white,” the response began. “I’m a nurse and give injections every day, you can feel the difference as the needle goes in.”
In case there was any question about whether this nurse harbors stereotypes about Black people, the response added for good measure: “This is also why black people age way better.”
The response from the nurse offered zero evidence to support her claims other than her own experience that absolutely no medical study has ever backed up.
“Even in 2022, some health care professionals still believe that different races have different skin thicknesses,” Bervell wrote on Instagram, where he made a separate video about the nurse’s response. “This rhetoric is dangerous and harmful.”
Bervell linked to two separate studied debunking the claims in the nurse’s response and cited another that “asked medical students and residents false biological beliefs about Black individuals like ‘do Black people have thicker skin than White people.’ The study found that half of participants endorsed at least one false belief. And those that endorsed a false belief were less likely to prescribe the proper amounts of pain medication to Black patients.”
Bervell added: “These beliefs are relics of America’s original sin: slavery. And they still impact us all today.”
Research published earlier this year by the American Medical Association underscores how medical racism like the beliefs held by the above nurse has helped shape modern healthcare in the U.S.
Concerns around medical racism and unethical health treatment like the infamous Tuskegee experiment have contributed to the ongoing mistrust of the U.S. medical system, particularly by Black people.
In today’s society, we know that doctors believe Black patients can withstand more pain, Black women are more prone to die post-childbirth, and Black babies are more likely to die in the hands of white doctors than Black doctors. Not to mention the silent and obtuse killers in Black communities like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and sickle cell. The data exists, but the action to correlate the intense experiences of stress fueled by racism has yet to take effect in treatment and diagnosis.