University of Virginia Report: Med students believe black people feel less pain than whites

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New research is out that could help explain why African Americans are often undertreated for pain, as various studies have shown. It comes from the University of Virginia, and attributes this discrepancy to a startling bias: Some medical professionals believe there are biological differences between whites and blacks that direct their courses of treatment.

“A substantial number of white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites, and demonstrates that these beliefs predict racial bias in pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy,” the research notes.

According to the school, the survey, led by Kelly M. Hoffman, a sixth-year doctoral candidate (All But Dissertation) in the social psychology program at the University of Virginia, asked 222 white medical students and residents to rate on a scale of zero to 10 the pain levels they would associate with two mock medical cases—a kidney stone and a leg fracture—for both a white and a black patient, and “to recommend pain treatments based on the level of pain they thought the patients might be experiencing.”

The survey also asked them whether they believed certain statements about whites and blacks were true, e.g., black people age more slowly than whites, black people have less sensitive nerve endings and black people’s blood coagulates more quickly. Surprisingly, over 100 students believed these fallacies to be factual.

Those who believed that information to be true, rated black patients’ pain lower than they did white patients’.

“Many previous studies have shown that black Americans are undertreated … because physicians might assume black patients might abuse the medications or because they might not recognize the pain of their black patients in the first place,” said Hoffman.

“Our study provides some insight to what might contribute to (disparities between races) – false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites,” Hoffman said. “The good news is that individuals who do not endorse these false beliefs do not show any evidence of racial bias in treatment recommendations. Future work will need to test whether challenging these beliefs could lead to better treatment and outcomes for black patients.” -Alexandra Samuels, Courtesy of USA Today College (April 5, 2016)

Alexandra Samuels is a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a USA TODAY College breaking news correspondent.



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