Commentary: The sisterhood of Black women physicians grieves

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After the passing of Dr. Chaniece Wallace due to complications of preeclampsia, Dr. KaNisha Hall reacted with a commentary talking about the need for more Black women doctors and an end to racism in medical spaces. (Courtesy Photo)

By Dr. KaNisha L. Hall, M.D.
Special to the AFRO

We are Black. We are female. We are daughters, some of us mothers. We are a sisterhood of physicians and we are grieving. The complications of preeclampsia that  caused the untimely demise of our sister, Dr. Chaniece Wallace, forces us all to take a long hard look in the mirror. What do we see? What do I see? Lately, I see weariness. 

I know the statistics. I know that I, as a Black woman, am two to six times more likely to die giving birth. As an anesthesiologist, my duties don’t stop with providing epidurals for women in labor. I often find myself advocating for my patients that look like me. The research and independent studies have revealed the implicit bias in healthcare. Doctors and nurses alike believe Black women do not experience pain like others. Oftentimes, Black women are overlooked, untreated, under-treated, misdiagnosed and under-diagnosed by healthcare providers for two prominent presenting factors, Black and Female. 

Repeatedly studies have shown that Black patients receive better care from Black physicians. Matter of fact all patients have better outcomes when treated by Black physicians and women physicians. For this reason, Billionaire Bloomberg recently donated millions to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with medical schools. My alma mater, Howard University College of Medicine, was among the recipients. One would think better outcomes with Black doctors should translate in mass efforts to produce more Black doctors. However, being Black remains a rate limiting factor. 

Outside of empty diversity and inclusion propaganda that has failed to increase medical school enrollment or residency training, no real benchmarks have been met to increase the population of physicians that look like me. The year I graduated from Howard University College of Medicine, 2008, The American Medical Association (AMA) apologized to Black doctors for racial discrimantion. Still little has changed. 

Outside of medicine, the failure to legalize  being Black and eradicate healthcare disparities can make it hard for Black people to just live, not to mention matriculate through medical school.  Being a doctor does not  make me immune to racism, social injustice, nor  healthcare disparities. Unfortunately, I get to live with these constant reminders everyday. I get to fight on the frontlines fighting for my patients, often to my own detriment, while neglecting my mental and physical health. I get to carry the burden of knowledge. I know my life expectancy is still five to six years less than my White female counterparts. Even worse, the life expectancy of the Black men I love is roughly five and 10 years less than White men and White women, respectively. 

Dr. Wallace dedicated her life to a healthcare system that failed her and continues to fail Black women. Thus, my call to action is simple. I need to see more doctors that look like me. We need more soldiers in this army of physicians to advocate for our patients, address implicit bias, and eradicate healthcare disparities. Black people need to connect with Black doctors to provide their care. We need to support HBCUs, because these historical institutions are responsible for more than 70 percent for Black doctors in this country. Dr. Chaneice Wallace was a daughter, mother, wife and sister. I refuse to grieve my sister in medicine in vain. We are Black lives. We are Black women. We are Black doctors. We are more than just another hashtag.

Dr. KaNisha Hall received a Doctorate of Medicine (M.D.) from Howard University. She later completed her  residency at Louisiana State University and  is a board certified anesthesiologist. Also, Dr. KaNisha Hall currently serves as the Chief Medical Correspondent for Kluster Radio  Media Group. Dr. KaNisha  practices  perioperative medicine, telemedicine and addiction counseling in multiple states including Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan.

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