How you get treated for pain might be affected by your race

Which of these statements about whites and blacks are true?

  • Whites are less susceptible to heart disease than blacks.
  • Whites are less likely to have a stroke than blacks.
  • Blacks’ skin is thicker than whites.
  • Blacks are less likely to contract spinal cord diseases.

Two hundred and twenty-two medical students and residents were asked these questions and more in a University of Virginia medical study published this week. The study, which echoes a 2000 Emory University study, sought to find out whether there is racial bias in the way blacks and whites are treated for pain by doctors. The study wasn’t about overt racism. Far from it. It was about something a little more subtle, but nonetheless concerning for patients dealing with severe to chronic pain.

“The overwhelming majority of people in this country are anti-racist, but implicit bias is still quite prevalent,” said Dr. M. Norman Oliver, one of the researchers on the U-Va. study. “People want their behavior to reflect their values.”

How those medical residents answered those questions wound up determining whether they prescribed adequate and accurate treatment for black and white patients. So who got the best care, black or white patients?

The results were surprising. Take a version of the test the students took here and visit for the full story on the students fared.

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