Hi, it’s Dr. Curry-Winchell or Dr. BCW for short. I am thrilled to share insights from my recent TEDx talk on Black Maternal Mortality with you. In this talk I cover a topic that has gotten some recent press, Black Mothers Dying. I shed light on the persistent issue of race-based medical practices and unconscious bias within our healthcare system and its real impact on black health. Specifically the life expectancy of black mothers. If you want to see more you can also check out my recent BBC interview which aired shortly before my TEDx talk was released.
During my TEDx talk, I wanted to urge the audience to grasp the gravity of the situation. I began by recounting the near-death experience of Serena Williams, a world-renowned athlete and champion. Serena’s terrifying encounter during childbirth highlights that even individuals with access to the best healthcare are not exempt from the dangers black mothers face during pregnancy. When disparities in black health are discussed, the argument inevitably falls to “lack of access.” Still, for maternal mortality, this is not the case. Affluent Black Mothers are dying 3x the rate compared to white women despite access to the best healthcare.
Unconscious bias is an invisible force that affects everyone. It affects our perceptions and decisions without us even realizing it. I shared a personal story from my experience as a patient and mother. My concerns were dismissed due to unconscious bias. If not for my personal relationships in medicine and the help of my husband, these dismissals could have cost me my life. Even though unconscious bias affects everyone, when the results of unconscious bias severely negatively impacts one group, it is something we must address. With Black Mothers dying at a 3x rate compared to other races this shows real negative impacts.
One persistent stereotype that took hold many years ago was the thought that individuals with black skin feel less pain. I delved into the dark history of medical experimentation on enslaved black women, where pain medication was withheld under this false belief. And, of course, sadly, this bias persists today, as research shows that healthcare providers may struggle to recognize pain in black patients. Other studies have shown that many medical students believe black patients have thicker skin and feel less pain. This incorrect belief and subsequent disparity in pain management puts lives at risk and calls for immediate action.
Race-Based Medical Practices:
A significant issue I called out in my TEDx talk was the flawed VBAC scoring system. The original VBAC pushed risky medical procedures on specific racial and ethnic groups while pushing others towards safer natural births. I emphasized that race is a social construct and should not determine medical decisions. While progress has been made with revising the VBAC, I highlighted the need for continued change. I urged healthcare providers to advocate for updated policies and comprehensive training. Addressing race based medicine will help reduce black mothers dying during child birth.
Taking Action Together:
I ask everyone, healthcare providers and patients, to be agents of change. I called upon my fellow healthcare professionals to educate themselves about the fallacy of race-based medicine and to actively challenge these practices within their institutions. To patients, I stressed the importance of speaking up when witnessing racial inequities and engaging in self-reflection to confront our own biases. If we all look at our own biases we can overcome Black Mothers dying 3x and so much more.
This TEDx talk on Black Maternal Mortality was incredibly emotional for me. I shared a very personal story from my life. I share my passion and commitment to addressing race-based medical practices and unconscious bias. My hope is that by shedding light on these issues that result in Black Mothers dying more than any other race, we can create a healthcare system that is equitable for every individual, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Stay informed and make well-informed decisions about your health and well-being.
-Dr. Curry-Winchell (Dr. BCW)