Althea Fung learned an important lesson about her healthcare needs during a dermatologist visit as a young adult. During a discussion about dry skin, the dermatologist asked Fung, who is Black and wears dreadlocks, about her hair care routine. She responded that she washes her hair about every three weeks. After years of experience maintaining her long locks, Fung knew that washing it without heat to dry the hair increases the chances of developing mold. And using heat on her hair regularly would be damaging.
The doctor expressed her disgust, directing her to wash her hair daily.
More than that the dermatologist wasn’t knowledgeable about Black hair care, it was clear to Fung that she’d be more comfortable seeking care from Black doctors or those who are culturally aware of Black healthcare needs in general.
Today, she goes out of her way to find Black female physicians, even when seeing a specialist means traveling across the New York Metropolitan area.
Fung is by no means alone. Access to physicians culturally aware of healthcare for the Black community often translates to a better patient experience. Research shows that doctors who care for patients of the same race are far more likely to receive higher scores on patient surveys. Other studies have found similar links.
Having a culturally sensitive Black doctor also saves lives. In some areas, like New York City, where Fung gave birth, Black women are nine times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications. Knowing this, Fung was especially motivated to use a Black OB/GYN when pregnant.
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