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Study by UW professor shows women of color experience racism from health providers

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Adrian Florez

There's a growing body of research showing that racism takes a physical toll on people of color. One way that racism shows up is in interactions between women of color and their health providers, according to a new study by Molly Altman, an assistant professor at the University of Washington.

Altman, who works in the UW School of Nursing, conducted the study when she was doing postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco. She and the other researchers interviewed 22 women of color who had recently given birth. The aim was to better understand how the women felt about their interactions with health providers.

“Most of the women shared experiences that they felt were tied to racism and discrimination, where they felt stereotyped for being a black women or for being of low income or not having a job at the time,” Altman said. “Most of the women felt that that really informed how providers treated them.”

Altman said this kind of work is important because it offers insights into how providers can improve care and address disproportionately poor health outcomes for African-American women in the U.S.

“We have a major problem in the U.S. right now where black women are dying at much higher rates than white women in terms of complications with childbirth, in pregnancy and afterwards, and there’s a major issue here that we have not been able to solve,” Altman said.

Many of the women said they received no information about what was happening to them or their babies and described feeling like a number instead of a human being, Altman said. One woman who was having a postpartum hemorrhage said she wasn't told what was going on and figured out it was serious because of the looks on people's faces.

Another woman noticed that providers treated her more respectfully after she told them she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.