African American Health Disparities

Feb 6, 2019

In America, everyone should have the right to good health.  Sadly, that is not the case for many Americans of color.


Studies show that there are persistent health care disparities among African Americans, compared to whites. Study after study proves that African Americans die at a younger age, with more serious complications of their illness, than their white counterparts.

The infant mortality rate for blacks is more than twice that of whites. African Americans receive fewer cardiac catheterizations, fewer angioplasties, fewer bypass surgeries, fewer kidney transplants, fewer lung cancer surgeries. African Americans and Hispanic Americans with long bone fractures are significantly less likely to receive pain medication than whites. African Americans receive more hysterectomies and amputations. The death rate for nine of the top 10 causes of death in America is at least 1.5 times greater for blacks than it is for whites. 

These sad statistics are not just true on a national scale. A study by one of our local Memphis hospitals in 2010 showed that African American patients were hospitalized for heart failure at an age 15 years younger than white patients.

The reasons for this are many, but one of the most difficult for me to admit as a physician is that medical providers carry prejudice within ourselves that affect our patients’ health.  Even if we’re not aware of them, our biases impact our patients’ outcomes.

At Church Health, our mission is to provide healthcare access to people who don’t have insurance and might otherwise not be able to afford to see a medical provider, and we do this regardless of their race, background, primary language, sexual orientation or faith perspective.

I encourage everyone to look at the systems around you and think about what you can do to promote equality wherever it’s absent.

This is Dr. Susan Nelson for Church Health.