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Discrimination is the act of negatively behaving towards a person or group of people due to the social group these individuals belong to. Although, as a society we like to believe that discrimination does not occur as often as it does, it can take many forms that we can be oblivious to. As a healthcare provider, one is held to a higher standard that many often forget are still human susceptible to the same vices. Discrimination in healthcare is a topic that many are not aware of the prevalence in our healthcare system. It might seem that the societal perceptions of different ethnic groups would not affect the healthcare sector but it does (Yearby, 2010).

The current study examined if unconscious biases had an affect on whether or not certain patients receive full scope treatment. The study proposed that racial discrimination affects the kind of treatment patients receive which leads to alarming health disparities between majority and minority group members. The study aimed to reveal the psychological nature of discrimination and how covert discrimination is the main culprit behind the differences in medical treatments received from healthcare providers. Empathy and personality scales were used to measure whether or not covert discrimination was present in those trying to enter and already working the healthcare field.

Participants were anonymously surveyed and provided their self-identified demographics, were given the student version of Jefferson Empathy Scale, randomly assigned one out of three vignettes about a patient, were asked further questions on how likely the participant would be to treat the patient and the speed in which they would administer pain medication if at all. Then, the participants were asked to rate the patient’s personality through a condensed version of the Big Five Inventory. Lastly, the participants were dismissed with a thank you for participation letter.

A diverse sample of students in healthcare related majors and at a small private liberal arts school and Bay Area healthcare professionals were recruited through social media, email, and an in class presentation for the study. The study was hosted online through and was open for 60 days.

It was hypothesized that the higher the empathy levels of the healthcare provider, the higher level of care they would administer to a patient. It was also hypothesized that due to subconscious biases that are perpetuated by society, African Americans are more likely to be given less treatment as opposed to Caucasian and Non-Stated race patients or thought to be exaggerating their medical experiences (level of pain) by the healthcare providers (healthcare related majoring students and professionals).

The findings of this study are intended to broaden the awareness of racial discrimination in healthcare and showcase how negative stereotypes of certain ethnic groups affect every aspect of life, including receiving of health care.



Faculty Advisor

Maggie Benedict-Montgomery, Ph.D.

Publication Date

Spring 2017


San Rafael, CA


racial discrimination, healthcare providers, affect, African American patients, Caucasian patients


Medical Humanities | Other Medicine and Health Sciences

Dying for a Diagnosis: The Impact of Racial Discrimination in Healthcare