‘I was terrified’: Black women may prefer Black OB-GYNs due to fear of discrimination, dying during pregnancy

A small study suggests that the fear of discrimination and mortality during pregnancy and childbirth may drive pregnant Black women to seek the care of Black obstetricians. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted interviews and focus groups with 32 Black women aged 27 to 34, revealing concerns about the increased maternal mortality rate among Black women. The findings were presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting.

The women expressed apprehension about the risks associated with pregnancy, with one participant stating her fear of dying simply from being pregnant. The study also highlighted instances of racial stereotyping, such as inappropriate suggestions about abortion and unnecessary inquiries about social services. The women in the study expressed a clear preference for Black obstetricians but acknowledged the difficulty in finding them.

Lead study author Dr. Nicole Teal noted that the idea of having a Black obstetrician for a sense of safety has not been extensively studied. However, she highlighted the positive impact of racial concordance between providers and patients in primary care and suggested a potential similar pattern in obstetric care.

Dr. J’Leise Sosa, an OB-GYN in Buffalo, New York, found the study results unsurprising, citing the relief expressed by Black women under her care due to shared identities. Dr. Joy Cooper, an OB-GYN and CEO of Culture Care, a telemedicine startup connecting Black women with Black doctors, emphasized the importance of being heard and understood by patients.

The study also revealed concerns about not being heard by healthcare providers, with some women feeling their concerns were not taken seriously. Dr. Sosa emphasized the real consequences of neglecting the needs of pregnant Black patients, including death and severe illness leading to long-term hospitalization.

The study participants expressed a desire for hospitals to address discrimination experiences in quality measures and stressed the importance of recruiting and retaining more Black OB-GYNs. Both Dr. Teal and Dr. Cooper underscored the need for institutions to prioritize diversity in the workforce to better serve the preferences and needs of Black patients.