Dr. Michael LeNoir: Healthcare Doesn’t See African Americans the Same Way

Recently Julie Rovner of Kaiser Family Foundation Health News interviewed LifeLong’s Dr. Michael Lenoir about racial disparities in medicine. Aside from practicing as an allergist-immunologist in his Oakland clinic, Dr. LeNoir is founder of the African American Wellness Project, formed in response to inequities in healthcare delivery.

The interview ranged from what to do about the increasing incidence of maternal mortality among Black women, to unconscious bias in medicine, to how to educate and train more Black physicians.

Here are some excerpts from Dr. LeNoir’s remarks:

About starting the African American Wellness Project: “It goes back to 2002, when as a doctor in a community that had people of color, physicians of color, I recognized that there was a difference in how African Americans were treated both professionally and personally….I (saw) the differences in how Black people were treated as opposed to whites. And I see the respect that was given to white physicians that was not given to Black physicians….And so that’s when we started the African American Wellness Project to educate African Americans how to deal with some of the aspects of early detection, disease prevention, exercise, and things like that.”

Combatting unconscious bias against patients of color: “A black person should call it out when they see it. That’s the big thing. I think we’re much too docile in the healthcare system…If we get as mad about healthcare that is disrespectful and unequal as we do when someone cuts in front of us in the Safeway line, we wouldn’t have that problem.”

Bringing more Black doctors into the Healthcare system: “The parameters to choose people for medical school need to start earlier, and they need to encourage Blacks, especially Black males of talent, so they can go on and do some things that are necessary to get into medical school.”

Impact of the Supreme Court’s decision banning affirmative action in colleges: “I believe diversity in California is probably 50 percent less than it was in the days when we had more liberal affirmative action guidelines. And so in those days, we were reporting 24, 25 Black students in these classes. That’s not happening anymore. So … I do worry.” 

If he could change one thing to make healthcare more equal: “I think it would be making certain that the system has the tools to detect two types of unconscious bias: this personal unconscious bias on the part of providers, but (also) this institutional unconscious bias. And I think we have to attack that first. Institutions don’t look at African Americans the same way.” 

Click here for the complete interview