Say What?! Some Dermatologists Say They Weren’t Trained to Spot Cancer on Black Skin

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Medical schools are playing a huge role in racial disparities in healthcare. Here's how.

A piece published this week by STAT, the health and science news site by the Boston Globe shed light on some of the racial disparities in health care.

The problem often starts back in med school, where physicians say they receive inadequate training. For example, although Blacks are four times more likely than whites to be diagnosed with melanoma—a type of skin cancer—half of dermatologists report that their medical schools did not prepare them to diagnose cancer on black skin, which means it is likely to go undiagnosed until it has spread to other parts of the body.

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If that isn't alarming enough, barely 1 in 10 dermatology residencies include a rotation in which physicians-in-training gain specific experience treating patients with skin of color. 

The report even went on to note that half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed at least one false belief about the difference in how much Blacks and Whites can take, which may explain why Black patients in the emergency room are 22 percent to 30 percent less likely to receive adequate medication. 

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Fortunately, institutions recognize that the people who suffer most from mediocre training are patients. Therefore, students at Harvard have formed the Racial Justice Coalition. The organization advocates that incoming classes be as diverse as possible and that students be taught about race and healthcare in ways that eliminate stereotypes. The coalition was inspired by peers who started White Coats for Black Lives, a national organization run by medical students that are working to eliminate racial bias in medicine.

Hopefully this information will inspire more black women and men to become doctors—our health depends on it. 

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