top of page

Racism in STEM Fields/the Healthcare Industry

Updated: 3 days ago

Dear Asian Youth,

As kids, we dreamt about being doctors when we used toy stethoscopes, dreamt about being scientists when we mixed random substances together, and dreamt about being engineers when we built Lego sets. Our imagination and curiosity got the best of us, questioning how the world worked around us, and attempting to come up with out-of-the-box answers, which would later pertain to our studies in STEM. One of the most popular reasons why people pursue a STEM degree is its objectivity. However, applications in a career, such as the healthcare industry, often arise moral and ethical quandaries. The classic example of a moral and ethical quandary is deciding who should be prioritized on the organ donor list, while the most overlooked, yet prominent examples involve racism and racial bias. It is expected that people who specialize in medicine and biology should not be racist. After all, as scientists, it should be a no-brainer that every human is made up of the same chemical composition and functions the same way. However, racism in STEM industries persists, endangering the lives of many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).

In many past studies, Black people have been used as subjects without proper compensation or knowledge of the ongoing studies. For example, the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment involved six hundred Black, male sharecroppers who were promised free healthcare by the Public Health Service in collaboration with Tuskegee University. 399 of those men had syphilis and were never notified of the disease - one that is contagious and deadly when left untreated. However, they were told they were treated for “bad blood,” given ineffective methods, and prevented from utilizing syphilis treatment programs in their communities. By 1947, the establishment of penicillin as the standard treatment for the disease caused the study to lose funding. However, the study continued to actively examine untreated syphilis. The experiment did not terminate until it was leaked to the press, but by then, twenty-eight men had died, forty wives had contracted the disease, and nineteen children were born with it. It is no coincidence that all participants were Black, impoverished, and illiterate. These scientists clearly saw their lives as disposable and treated them as lab rats. Because of this unethical study, Black patients now have less trust in the medical system than their white counterparts. Studies conducted by Stanford Medical School and the University of Tennessee found that after public revelation of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, the life expectancy of Black men over forty-five reduced by a year. The reason for this is that those of a similar demographic to the participants developed more distrust in doctors. Thus, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment scarred generations of Black people from seeking proper medical help. Racism in STEM clearly has larger implications of damage than those directly affected, and continues to hinder these demographics from receiving proper diagnosis and treatment.