Representation Matters: Why It’s Crucial to Have More Healthcare Providers of Color

Lina Cook, DC
October 16, 2020
5 min read

Like most people who find themselves in healthcare-related fields, I have always had a strong desire to help people. I’ve had some fantastic mentors and peers of all races throughout my journey. Only a few of which are Black but who I wish I’d met earlier in life. These Black mentors have followed my career, challenged me to exceed my goals regularly, and continue to invest their time into my success. Their advice has been priceless. In any healthcare profession regardless of specialty or title, there are moments when you feel you’re fulfilling your purpose but there are also moments of frustration and defeat. For me, the positive experiences have outweighed the negative experiences. That doesn’t negate the impact of the negative experiences. As a chiropractor, I’ve worked in several multidisciplinary settings with various honorable surgeons, healthcare specialists, and administrators.

Bottom line: Systemic racism in America is a public health crisis. We have to admit there is a problem and then begin to dismantle a system that fosters health disparities.

Unfortunately, as an African American female, I’ve also experienced disrespect and discrimination along with toxic and hostile work environments. The cultural insensitivity and small microaggressions begin to add up. In previous work settings, as the only Black female provider, it can feel as if you fight so hard for so long and somewhere along the way you begin to question yourself. Am I really making a difference in my patients lives? Has all my hard work and dedication even been worth it? It’s draining and I think many Black doctors can relate. In that situation the lack of support and biased business practices imposed on myself compared to my non-Black colleagues made it extremely difficult to do what I was truly passionate about. When you are genuinely excited and committed to your craft, being met with bias and negativity from administrators, staff, colleagues and/or patients can be extremely discouraging. You don’t realize the detrimental effect it has on you mentally, physically and emotionally. At least I didn’t. I didn’t want to be perceived as difficult, aggressive, angry or any other negative stereotypes that others have attached to Black women. That’s just not me. So, despite the odds you’re up against, you continuously push yourself harder each day to be there for your patients. It’s a recipe for burnout. It should be a supportive group effort to give the best care possible; an environment where all parties flourish.

I see a wide range of patients, including private practice patients, athletes, workers compensation, and postoperative patients. Most suffer from orthopedic injuries. If I felt dismissed, I could only imagine how my patients felt when coming into contact with biased providers and staff members. It has taught me to set healthy boundaries gracefully. That obstacle only made me more appreciative of all the positive experiences I had and continue to encounter. It also increased my drive to advocate for all my patients, especially the ones who feel neglected.

Let’s be honest. We do need more Black healthcare providers, but it’s no secret that lack of financial and educational resources and support are common in minority communities.

Let’s be honest. We do need more Black healthcare providers, but it’s no secret that lack of financial and educational resources and support are common in minority communities. Simultaneously, with racial bias noted throughout history, many Black students are not positioned for success to the extent of some of their non-Black peers. The difference is evident as they begin to compete for scholarships, medical school seats, and so forth.

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We have all seen the studies that Black men have the shortest life expectancies, Black women have the highest maternal mortality rates and Black babies have the highest infant mortality rates. It’s clear the needs of Black patients often go unmet and disregarded. I believe some of these outcomes can be attributed to the lack of Black healthcare providers. Bottom line: Systemic racism in American is a public health crisis. We have to admit there is a problem and then begin to dismantle a system that fosters health disparities.

Doctor-patient trust is essential in successful patient outcomes. When Black patients tell me they feel more comfortable with me or have expressed disappointment in not feeling heard by other non-Black doctors, I do not take that lightly. If I’m able to ease some of their anxieties, encourage them to live healthier lifestyles, refer them to the appropriate specialist when needed, and increase successful outcomes I’ve done my job well. That’s a wonderful feeling. Black patients deserve healthcare providers they can trust with their health and who take their concerns seriously regardless of race.

Lastly, representation does, in fact, matter. There’s no denying that. The lack of Black healthcare providers results in less Black mentors, class instructors, and role models. Fortunately for me, my parents went to great lengths to expose me to outstanding Black role models in academia and sports. I went from being the only Black girl in class to attending a historically Black college (HBCU). Growing up, gymnastics was a major part of my life (again, the only Black girl in gymnastics class). When I saw Dominique Dawes on the USA women’s gymnastics team, I wanted to be just like her, and I believed I could because she looked like me. Studies show that individuals are more comfortable with doctors, lawyers, and caretakers that look like them. Patients of color deserve that option.

About Dr. Lina Cook

Meet Dr. Sirlina Cook, affectionately known as Dr. Lina, a Los Angeles, California native. Dr. Lina has successfully earned her Diplomate from the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians (DACBSP®) certification. The DACBSP® certification requires the doctor to attend a minimum of 300 hours of postgraduate education, take and successfully pass a comprehensive written examination, a practical (hands-on) exam, submit a sports injury-related paper published in a peer-reviewed journal and a minimum of 100 hours providing hands-on treatment to athletes outside of the clinical setting.

Dr. Lina is a patient-focused physician. Professional athletes, young athletes, dancers, weekend warriors, PI cases, worker’s compensation cases, gymnasts, and athletes from a wide range of sports all seek Dr. Lina’s expertise in her medical specialty. In her spare time she is passionate about educating and sharing information on her blog Dr. Lina Colleagues & Friends.

At Carbon Health we’ve made it our mission to make world-class healthcare accessible to everyone. As providers, we know, now more than ever, it’s our actions that will speak louder than our words. At times it might seem like an uphill battle, but consistent effort is key to dismantling systemic racism in healthcare and beyond. Together we can create change and help pave the way for a brighter, healthier future for everyone.

Liked what you read? Learn more by downloading the Carbon Health app or visiting carbonhealth.com.

Lina Cook, DC

Meet Dr. Sirlina Cook, affectionately known as Dr. Lina, a Los Angeles, California native. Dr. Lina has successfully earned her Diplomate from the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians (DACBSP®) certification. The DACBSP® certification requires the doctor to attend a minimum of 300 hours of postgraduate education, take and successfully pass a comprehensive written examination, a practical (hands-on) exam, submit a sports injury-related paper published in a peer-reviewed journal and a minimum of 100 hours providing hands-on treatment to athletes outside of the clinical setting.

Dr. Lina is a patient-focused physician. Professional athletes, young athletes, dancers, weekend warriors, PI cases, worker’s compensation cases, gymnasts, and athletes from a wide range of sports all seek Dr. Lina’s expertise in her medical specialty. In her spare time she is passionate about educating and sharing information on her blog Dr. Lina Colleagues & Friends.

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