Black Newborns Are More Likely to Survive Under the Care of Black Doctors, Study Finds

Black newborns delivered by white doctors are three times more likely to die, according to researchers

African doctor looking at newborn baby
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Black newborns born in the United States are more likely to survive childbirth when they are cared for by Black doctors, while Black newborns cared for by white doctors are three times more likely to die, a new study determined.

Researchers found that having a Black doctor led to a significantly better outcome for Black babies — their mortality rate was cut in half, between 39 and 58 percent lower, compared to those delivered by white doctors.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the race of the doctor did not have an effect on the mortality rate for white babies.

“Strikingly,” the researchers wrote, the largest decrease in mortality rate was in complex births — Black babies born in “more complicated cases” were far more likely to survive with a Black doctor. The mortality rate also significantly decreased at hospitals that deliver more Black newborns.

“The findings suggest that Black physicians outperform their White colleagues when caring for Black newborns,” the study authors wrote.

For the study, the researchers studied data from 1.8 million Florida birth records from 1992 to 2015, and matched them with the race of their doctors.

Their research is in line with a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control that found Black newborns are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies.

The U.S. mortality rate for Black women during childbirth is also extremely high for a developed country — in 2018, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 37.1 per every 100,000 live births, three times the rate for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women.

The researchers, from George Mason University, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Harvard University, said that hospitals should analyze their racial biases and health practices.

"Taken with this work, it gives warrant for hospitals and other care organizations to invest in efforts to reduce such biases and explore their connection to institutional racism," they said. "Reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities.”

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