Chronic Pain: How to Advocate for Yourself as a Black Patient

Black Patients Are Perceived to Have Less Pain Than White Patients (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Unconscious Bias

A number of studies have been conducted that reveal that medical students and doctors have a different perception of pain levels among Black and white patients. In every case, Black patients were perceived to have less pain than white patients.

Medical Students and Doctors Have a Different Perception of Pain Levels (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Self Advocacy

In the face of such inherent bias, it is vital that Black people with chronic pain learn how to advocate effectively for themselves when they see a medical professional. This can be a daunting prospect, however. It is easy to feel uncomfortable or intimidated in a doctor’s office. However, by preparing for the visit, you can be your own best advocate. Here are five ways to do just that.

It’s Vital That Black People With Chronic Pain Learn How to Advocate Effectively (Image Source: Shutterstock)

How to Describe Pain

Before you visit the doctor, spend some time thinking about how you will describe your pain to them. The more accurately you are able to do so, the better they’ll understand what you are going through. Sit down with a pad and pen and jot down the answers to the following questions:

Make an Entry Following Every Episode of Chronic Pain (Image Source: Shutterstock)
  • How long have you been experiencing the pain?
  • Where exactly is the pain?
  • Is the pain localized or is it spread over a wide part of your body?
  • What rating would you give the pain between 1 and 10 (10 being the most severe)?
  • Is the pain worse when you touch the area?
  • Is the pain always there or does it come in waves?
  • How does the pain affect your daily routine?
  • Have you identified any triggers that set off the pain?
  • Gnawing
  • Shooting
  • Stabbing
  • Throbbing
  • Cramping

Be Open About Your Concerns

Without being confrontational, you may wish to raise the issue of unconscious bias with your healthcare provider. Tell them that you have read some studies that show that it is common for doctors to underestimate the pain threshold of Black people and that you really want them to get an accurate picture of your experience.

  • Did your doctor ask probing questions?
  • Do you think they took your symptoms seriously?
  • Did they make value judgments about you and your condition?

Ask the Doctor Questions About Cultural Awareness

You may feel helpless when you are sitting in your doctor’s office, but you don’t have to. Remember that you are the paying customer in the relationship. That means that the doctor is working for you. You don’t have to feel like a victim, even if you are being victimized.

  • Are you familiar with the racial disparities for patients with chronic pain?
  • What are some steps you take to reduce the impact of bias when providing care?
  • What is your experience working with patients of color?

Remember Who the Expert Is

The patient-doctor relationship is undeniably uneven. The doctor, after all, is the expert on health. They have spent many years studying and have lots of practical experience. When it comes to your body, however, it is you who are the expert. You live inside your body and you experience your pain.

The patient-doctor relationship is undeniably uneven (Image Source: Shutterstock)


Unconscious bias is a real thing. It affects the way that medical professionals deal with chronic pain in the Black community. As a Black person with chronic pain, however, you do not have to be a helpless victim. If you take the time to accurately describe your symptoms, openly express your concerns to your medical professional, prepare to change doctors if you feel that you are not being listened to, and stand up for yourself, you can confront this unconscious bias and get the help that you deserve.



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