Healthcare Workplace Conversations on Race and the Perspectives of Physicians of African Descent

While research evidence exists demonstrating that race influences the professional experiences of physicians from racial/ethnic minority groups, health care organizations have not received a great deal of instruction as to how to address and openly discuss race in the health care workplace.

This article explores how physicians of African descent view race in health care workplaces, and the extent race-related conversations take place in these contexts. Qualitative, in-depth interviews were conducted with 25 physicians of African descent in the New England area. Analysis of interview transcriptions yielded five major themes.

Key Findings:                       

  • Even before medical training, perceptions of race-related experiences with health care influenced participant views on health care organizations and their professional identity as physicians. For physicians of African descent, shielding patients from health care discrimination was an important goal.
  • Participants took advantage of external support systems for race-related matters instead of utilizing support within health care organizations.
  • Participants described being uncomfortable speaking about race-related issues at work. Participants also reported perceptions that they interpreted race-related experiences in different ways than did colleagues who were not racial/ethnic minority group members.

Health care organizations that want to create workplace settings where open discussion about race can occur must be proactive in raising awareness and monitoring organizational climate. To accomplish these goals, health care organizations will need to involve workers from a range of racial/ethnic groups, endeavor to avoid stereotyping, and utilize large-scale and institution-specific initiatives.