Structural Racism in Dermatology

Structural Racism in Dermatology

Dermatology is the branch of medicine specializing in the skin, and as such, patients' experiences are heavily influenced by the color of their skin. For example, skin cancer in people of color (POC) is commonly diagnosed at late stages, and the five-year melanoma survival rate for Black patients is 70%, whereas it is 94% for white patients. Reasons for these disparities include but are not limited to noninclusive education practices and access to care.

Medical education has historically been centered around white men. Dr. Jenna Lester, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, said, “We are not teaching (and possibly not learning) skin of color.” Even today, it is incredibly difficult to find images depicting what skin diseases look like on darker skin. When physicians are not trained on how to treat and diagnose these diseases, patients are more likely to go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, doing them a great disservice.  

On the other side of the education disparity is the fact that while many textbooks use light skin as a reference, Black skin is more often used to demonstrate what sexually transmitted infections look like. This is a direct result of healthcare's racist past and events like the Tuskegee experiments which misled hundreds of Black men and let their syphilis go untreated.

In addition, issues with access to care further contribute to discrimination in dermatology. There can be "restrictive insurance coverage for skin conditions that affect people with heavily pigmented skin," and many dermatologists do not accept Medcaid, which Black patients are more likely to have.

People do not often prioritize their dermatological health, making it incredibly important that patients are able to find physicians that can cater to their specific needs. Caralyst is making this process easier for both patients and physicians by allowing patients to specify what they need from their physicians. We also allow physicians to indicate what patient populations they are able to and are interested in working with. Our product will better healthcare experiences and improve efficiency by matching patients and physicians with shared objectives.