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How one hospital organization is tackling racial bias in medicine

Mount Sinai is on a mission to provide quality health care for all.

This report is part of “Turning Point,” a groundbreaking series by ABC News examining the racial reckoning sweeping the United States and exploring whether it can lead to lasting reconciliation.

For years, studies have shown that people of color don’t get the same level of health care as white patients.

Some of these studies include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 study which found that Black babies have a higher chance of dying in their first year of life compared to white babies.

Similarly, a study from the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine found that Black and brown Americans waited longer for care in the emergency room than white Americans.

And in 2016, another study from the National Academy of Sciences found that Black Americans were undertreated for pain compared to white Americans.

It’s an issue that Kamilah Mitchell knows all too well. In 2017, Mitchell said she was in the emergency room for eight hours and was even given a breathalyzer test before getting treatment for uterine cancer.

“How do you trust a system that is ready to send you home?” Mitchell told “Good Morning America.” “Because for whatever reason, they don’t want to hear you.”

Mitchell is now a patient of Dr. Joy Cooper, an Oakland, California, doctor and co-founder of Culture Care, a group that connects Black women with trusted physicians.

“I always tell people that the health care system was not designed [with] Black women in mind,” Dr. Joy Cooper told “Good Morning America.” “J. Marion Sims, who’s considered the father of gynecology, actually performed surgeries on slaves with their master’s consent without anesthesia.”

But an initiative at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital is working to end racial bias in medicine.

Dubbed the Racial Bias Initiative, which is part of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, their mission is to provide “health care and education that is free of racism and bias.”

According to Dean David Muller of the Icahn School of Medicine, the initiative, which was launched in 2015, aims to focus on changing “how we function, how we recruit scientists and doctors, how we promote them and how we make decisions about resource allocation.”

“It’s the people and it’s the actual structure of the medical school,” added Dr. Leona Hess, director of strategy and equity education programs at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “What are the ways in which we set up conditions that either knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate racism?”

At the Icahn School of Medicine, they also host weekly discussions about racial bias in medicine called “Chats for Change,” where the Mount Sinai community can learn about a wide range of topics from racial trauma to racial injustice in medicine. Attendees can also take part in healing circles.

“There’s a lot of work going on

The Cost of Medical Bias When You’re Sick, Black, and Female

This is Race and Medicine, a series dedicated to unearthing the uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening truth about racism in healthcare. By highlighting the experiences of Black people and honoring their health journeys, we look to a future where medical racism is a thing of the past.


Being a doctor is a unique role. It involves knowing some of the most intimate things about a person, but not really knowing them as a person at all.

The patient’s job is to be transparent about their health, and the doctor’s job is to listen objectively to symptoms and fears to choose the most logical diagnosis. 

Racial bias in the medical field disrupts the trust needed for this relationship to function. 

A biased doctor might disbelieve symptoms or their severity and misdiagnose a condition.

A patient may come to mistrust the doctor, not attend appointments, not follow instructions, or stop sharing key information because history tells them they aren’t taken seriously. 

Reducing bias is critical to eliminating health disparities, especially for Black women.

My run-in with bias

Several years ago, I experienced medical bias when I started having headaches multiple times per week. I had had migraine before, but this was different. 

I felt like I was dragging my body through heavy resistance, like encountering an undertow. I was losing weight. No matter how much water I drank, I was always thirsty and rushing to the bathroom around the clock. 

It seemed I could never eat enough to feel full. When I tried to avoid overeating, I became fatigued, my vision blurred, and I had so much trouble focusing it was hard to drive.

My primary care physician (PCP) cut me off when I tried to explain.

She congratulated me for losing weight and said I just needed to let my brain adjust to food deprivation. When I explained I wasn’t dieting, she sent me to a headache specialist. 

The headache specialist prescribed a medication that didn’t help. I knew they weren’t migraine headaches, but no one listened, even as my fatigue and disorientation increased. 

Once, I even had trouble finding my own house.

By my sixth visit, the symptoms were massively disrupting my life. I wondered if I had type 2 diabetes because of family history. My symptoms seemed to match. 

I knew of a test called HbA1c that provides a snapshot of blood sugar levels. I insisted on being tested. My doctor said she would order labs based on my demographics. 

I thought I was finally getting somewhere — but when the receptionist at the lab printed the list of tests, HbA1c wasn’t present. Instead, it was tests for common STDs. 

I was humiliated, overwhelmed, and no closer to having answers. In the parking lot, I broke down and cried. 

Subtle racism

When Black people share instances of racism, it’s often disregarded as playing the ‘race card’ or as an isolated incident. It’s much more difficult to explain subtle racism than it is to explain blatant acts like burning crosses and