Unpacking Race in the Patient-Researcher Relationship

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By Char Adams 
Digital Editor of SUM

Graduate Center Ph.D. student Irina Mindlis (Psychology) thought she knew what to expect when she set out to look at the relationships between Black and Latinx people participating in studies and the researchers conducting the study. Surely, she thought, participants would be most receptive to researchers who looked like them.

However, the new study published in the Social Science & Medicine journal told a different story. Mindlis and her fellow researchers found that Black and Latinx/Hispanic adults were less likely to complete studies of respiratory illnesses when they were recruited by Black and Latinx/Hispanic researchers. The findings have significant implications for clinical research, Mindlis says.

“It was completely shocking to us because it’s the opposite of what we were expecting. All the literature on patient-physician relationships show that people are more likely to show up for a follow-up visit with their physician is of the same racial or ethnic group as them,” Mindlis says.

This is important because favorable and culturally relevant patient-physician relationships are necessary in order to bridge the gap of health disparities. The study did not address the cause of the outcome, but Mindlis has an idea.

“I think there are two things that could explain the results. One is this pattern we see a lot where physicians and researchers who are racial or ethnic minorities in the U.S. report a lot more microaggressions or not being taken as seriously as their white colleagues by patients. There’s this generalized view that researchers are white, middle-aged, men,” she explains. 

“I think there could also be internalized racism. I think there’s something in encountering someone who looks like you who might lead some participants to think, ‘This is not a serious enough study.’” 

Mindlis has spent years studying illness and its social impacts and says implicit bias training isn’t the answer to this problem.

“We know that implicit bias training doesn’t really reduce implicit bias. It would be really nice if that was the case, but it just doesn’t happen,” Mindlis says. “The best thing we can do with bias is be aware of it and understand that it’s there so we have that at the forefront and address how we present research studies to them in a way that accounts for the bias that everyone’s coming in with.”

Char Adams is the Digital Editor of SUM, she's on Twitter at @CiCiAdams

Submitted on: AUG 24, 2020

Category: Diversity | GCstories | General GC News | Psychology | Research Studies | Student News