Doctors' and nurses' explanations for racial disparities in medical treatment

J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2010 Feb;21(1):386-400. doi: 10.1353/hpu.0.0275.


Racial inequality in medical treatment is a problem whose sources are not fully understood. To gain better insight into how race may affect treatment, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 doctors and nurses. Using an open coding scheme, the explanations of racial inequality in treatment were coded by two people. Four major categories of responses emerged to explain why Black patients are less likely to receive the same levels of medical care as Whites: access to care, physician bias, Black patients' perceived shortcomings, and White patients' demands. Interviewees commonly cited access and patient factors before naming physician bias. The majority questioned the validity of studies reporting disparities. Educational campaigns should emphasize evidence that racial disparities persist even after controlling for factors such as insurance and patient characteristics. Educational programs should also address subconscious racial bias and how it may operate in a clinical setting.

MeSH terms

  • African Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Midwestern United States
  • Nurses / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Prejudice