“I think the number one thing Black women and Black people should be paying attention to is our health.” — Bell Hook
You are not alone. The doctor’s white coat brings anxiety to most patients. But for Black women, the image of a white coat can be deadly or massive fear.
The Taliban, Dr. Marion Sims’ repugnant medical practice, still keeps many Black women out of the doctor’s office. Why? Because of a lack of trust in doctors. Fear not! Dr. Sims’ statue is no longer in Central Park, NYC, and he is no longer the “Father of Gynecology” — Amen.
Take your power back, be ready to advocate for your health care, and search for a good doctor. Check out Allison Gaines’ articles on Black women’s issues. She is an excellent researcher and a brilliant writer.
Understand the Doctor’s Office:
Most doctors in the US were trained about White people’s bodies and environments. And the US medical tradition is based on white people’s values-centered on white men, racism, and classism.
The microaggression from healthcare workers to you is a distraction. Take your healthcare seriously and work hard to find a doctor who listens to you and believes in your story.
Tia Mowry shared her story with a nonchalant doctor and how she found the one who listened to her.
Doctors, like all other people, are subject to prejudice and discrimination. While bias can be a problem in any profession, in medicine, the stake are much higher.” — Dr. Damon Tweedy
9 Ways to Be An Advocate for Your Health Care:
Some of these things helped me, and some of my clients negotiate and receive the best treatment from our health care providers.
1. Know Thyself:
No worries! Anxiety is expected in a doctor’s office. You may discuss the white coat anxiety with your doctor. My primary care physician takes off his white coat during my annual exam.
Microaggression from some healthcare workers is a distraction so that you can stay home without treatment and die. Accept and understand who they are and why you are in their office. Your life matters more than some healthcare workers’ biases.
What to do?
Work on any stigma or shame you have concerning your health, body, or a particular illness.
2. Selecting Your Doctor
To select the best doctor, you need four things — know yourself, patience, time, and access to Google or a referral from friends, family members, or business associates.
My deal-breaker is if a doctor chooses not to listen to me, I’ll look for another one. I’ve changed my primary care physician three times within two years. I have currently stayed with one for close to 6 years because he gives me world-class service. My privilege — I have quality health insurance.
My OB-GYN doctor is a Black woman, and I have been with her for a long time. Both doctors are healthy, one of the criteria I used in selecting a healthcare provider for myself and children.
What to do?
If you are uncomfortable discussing your real problem with your doctor, find a new one.
3. Office Location and Your appointment:
Your life comes first.
I plan my annual check-up months in advance. The same way I make an appointment for my hair, prepare for a wedding, or buy a sports ticket in advance.
My doctor is close to my home. Select a doctor who is close to your home, if possible. I believe no doctor will share your health information with your neighbors or friends, or church members. HIPPA Privacy is a law in the US.
One of my clients shared how she got over the fear of her church members knowing her health business. Why? Because she attends morning Mass with her doctor. Fear not and hire a doctor from your church, temple, mosque, or office building.
What to do?
Have a plan in place for your doctor’s appointment.
No insurance, no worries! Visit or learn more about Planned Parenthood as their doctors offer most of the services you need. They provide excellent customer service. I used them for my annual exam when I was looking for a good fit doctor.
4. The Doctor’s Background:
Select a doctor who was trained near a Black community. My primary care doctor was trained in Brooklyn, NY. He is attentive to me more than my OB-GYN doctor, who was trained at Cambridge, MA. She is Black, and he is White.
What to do?
Look for older African trained doctors and millennial doctors on social media. They are an excellent choice for Black women too.
5. Your Interaction with Your Doctor:
I write down my problems and questions before my doctor’s appointment. I reflect on the questions a doctor might ask me and why? You need to listen more and talk less.
Use your notes in a doctor’s office.
When you are talking with your doctor — don’t change your story even if you are under interrogation. Stick to your true story. Truth is always one version. My experience shows that the same question can be asked about ten times in different ways, and the doctor wants to find out more information to understand your complaint.
For example, I hit my head on the glass door in the Church after a Sunday service, and I went to the emergency room. From the intake doctor to the attending doctor, the same question was asked about 20 times. In this case, they wanted to rule out domestic violence. As a social worker, I knew doctors and other providers would be suspicious. And they were, and I was calmed and answered the same questions a thousand times from everyone.
I think the healthcare providers work as CIA agent to serve you better. Interesting, but that is how it works for most of them. If the pressure is too much, change the doctor.
Most importantly, pay attention to your health and be ready to explain how you feel for a day, one week, and so on. Learn and know everything about your body as Kim Kardashian’s fans know about her and her family.
What to do?
Use your notes in the doctor’s office and be honest. Appreciate your doctor, and don’t waste your time and hers.
6. Doctor’s Office:
Be at the doctor’s office at least 30 minutes before the appointment time. One of my clients takes a train and a bus to see her primary care doctor, and she is always in the office at least 30 minutes before the appointment. She said, “I treat doctor’s appointments as I treat business’ appointments.”
I prefer seeing my doctor first thing in the morning between 7 am, and 9 am. Often I am the first or second patient, and the doctor seems to be fresh and happy in the morning. From my experience and some of my clients’, Mondays or a day after a holiday is not a good day to visit a doctor for your annual physical exam.
If you are late, call ahead of time and be honest about why you are late.
What to do?
Dress appropriately when you’re going to the doctor’s office. Dress as if you are going to meet your child’s teacher, not the beach. Life is not fair, but your taste of clothing can say something about your health in a doctor’s office.
7. You and Your Black Doctor
We are comfortable with what we live or know. And what we always see on TV.
Is this the first time you have seen or interacted with a Black doctor?
Be respectful of a Black doctor and other providers. Extend the same privilege you always give to a White doctor to your new Black physician. I hope he or she respects and loves him or herself too.
Your interaction with a Black doctor is important because sometimes, Black people don’t treat one another with respect or patience. It’s your responsibility to be respectful and be conscious of any differences you may feel about your new healthcare provider. Respect and love yourself.
Study shows NBA Black players prefer not to play for a Black coach — our truth.
Be kind to yourself and recognize the anxiety of meeting a young Black doctor for the first time in your life. She or he wears cornrows or has dreadlocks, a nose ring, or speaks with a different accent, or he or she chooses to wear or not wear makeup.
I have seen young Black doctors in the hallway and elevator expressing themselves in the way they dress, and it’s refreshing and empowering.
I believe doctors that look like me are as good as others. Many Black doctors are more likely to tell you things you don’t want to hear and are more likely to understand your health concerns and how your social environment affects your health.
My OB-GYN speaks her truth and discusses my health issues openly. She often says, “Bassey, I had a similar experience, and I will recommend that you try this to see how it works.” My bias, I listen and take her recommendations seriously compare to other providers. She lives in a black woman’s body, and we are almost the same age.
What to do?
Be conscious of your thoughts and feelings about yourself.
If you are a young mother and you are not a doctor, take your young children to see a Black doctor and introduce them to her or him. I used to do this when my children were young. Same with a Governor, a Mayor, or any other VIP. Your young children are VIP too.
8. Office’s Reception:
Your interaction with the clerk and auxiliary staff must be strictly business — be kind and use your business voice. The reception staff read Black women as soon as they enter their office. They can be rude to you if you give them a clue. Sad, but they do it. Both Black and White employees play the microaggression game all the time.
What to do?
Be conscious of your body language.
9. What You Can Do to Find More Black Doctors:
Shirley Chisholm reminded us, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
I’ll add, buy, or design and build your own tables.
We need more Black doctors in the Black community. As parents, teachers, pastors, and community leaders, we can encourage (not force ) our children and relatives to attend medical school. As we know, money in Rap music is not everything in the Black community.
Doctors can’t afford a Yacht like Jay Z or a mansion like other Rappers, but most live comfortably. Most importantly, they save lives and promote a high rate of life expectancy in our society.
Have a conversation (not force) with your children, students, and relatives about why a medical school education can help their community. You could show them some practical examples.
We all want our children to be happy with their career choice or love what they do. We can also consciously expose our young children to science, as we do with sports and Rap music. It takes more hours to practice a Football than to study for high school Chemistry class.
Plant a seed of medicine in your young child’s mind — expose her to science museums or toys. A science camp during a child’s formative years can be helpful.
Reflect on a basketball or science camp every other summer.
As studies have shown, finding a Black male doctor in many cities is unattainable. However, we can help double the number of Black doctors in our community if we do our part. We can parent differently. It starts with us — parents, relatives, teachers, pastors, and community leaders.
In my area of NY, it isn’t easy to find a Black “male” pediatrician. One came from Boston, and he became a rock star to his young patients and their parents.
Your children or students don’t have to be a perfect student to become a doctor. In his book, Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon, “The Gifted Hands,” confessed to being a terrible young student. Dr. Carson is a good example. I am not a politician, but I vote.
Fear not. You have the power to select your health care provider and work hard to meet your well-being needs. Your life matters, and never stay away from seeing a physician because one distracts or talks down on you.
Have a conversation with your children, students, and relatives about the choice of medicine as a profession. Your sincere conversation can help create more doctors in the Black community. You want inspiration, know her name, Dr. Yvonne Thornton.
Your life matters and your health care matters more.
Your vote matters. Help yourself grow.
I worked and consulted with doctors in the Mental Health Clinics and A Day Rehabilitation Center for people with serious mental illness and addiction. Currently, I continue to consult with doctors for some of my clients as needed.