As a speech-language pathologist, I’ve served hundreds of individuals and their families over my past six years of practice. Old and young. Privileged and disadvantaged. Black and white.
There are certain interactions that always resonate with me, particularly those surrounding race and ethnicity. Recent Census data indicate that every four in ten Americans identify with a racial or ethnic group other than white. Black Americans account for 13.4% of the overall population. However, minority speech-language pathologists account for just 8% of the profession, with Black clinicians making up only 3.6% of our workforce.
Of course, this means fewer faces of color represented in professional healthcare, private practice, and academic roles. But are there larger implications for care and practice on an individual level?
For example, a patient may believe a medical institution does not fully consider her concerns, history, or viewpoints during intake or incorporated into her plan of care.This can fuel distrust, reduced adherence to proposed recommendations, or could sever the physician/patient relationship altogether. This could also result in poorer outcomes for the patient when medical care is needed most.
Is this type of outcome eliminated when a provider is of the same racial or ethnic background as the patient? Perhaps, but not necessarily.
I’ve worked with individuals and families that racially identify as Black who have very bluntly requested that I be their sole clinician. At a surface level, it appears to be purely based on the shared color of our skin, but over time I’ve noticed it’s been a great deal more than that.
What resonates most within clinical care are some of the shared experiences held between myself as a clinician and the families I have served. My concerns have been ignored by someone deemed as a professional who I thought should provide help and advice. I’ve had to do my own research and dig for information that I needed for myself or a loved one (which for whatever reason wasn’t readily available to me, but was accessible to others). I’ve had to advocate for my own care or that of my family by speaking up or walking out. These are very real experiences for me as an individual in my personal life, which are also largely reflected in the families I serve of the same cultural and racial background. It’s virtually impossible for me to practice without acknowledging how these experiences shape my interactions.
This is not to say that patient/clinician experiences across cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds always crash and burn (not the point here!). My experiences as a black woman are not representative of those of the nation, but I can say that I have been a patient of both Black and non-Black clinicians. For those clinicians that I have had a longstanding relationship with, it was based on an understanding of my personal values, health priorities, mutual respect, and the provision of treatment as an individual rather than part of a collective group.
That being said, having more Black clinicians for Black patients, or Latinx clinicians for Latinx patients, or Asian clinicians for Asian patients should not be deemed as the sole solution. We need:
Representation does matter. Cultivating understanding and respect for differences is necessary to provide culturally informed care in an ever-changing society.
2020 Member & Affiliate Profile
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US Census Bureau Quick Facts
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Devon Brunson, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS
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