Campus News

Professor says cultural context is important for patient care

R. Baxter Miller, professor of English in the Institute for African American Studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, spoke at a recent conference, covered by Relias Media, about the importance of cultural context in building trust with Black patients.

“The greatest problem is racial interaction,” said Miller. He said that case managers, who are responsible for building trust with patients, need to work toward bridging cultural divides to address mistrust.

There is a history of the medical community using Black people for dangerous experiments, most publicly in the Tuskegee Study, which has led to a legacy of mistrust between doctors and Black people. Now, medical professionals have to work to bring that trust back.

Miller suggests starting by taking time to make eye contact.

“It’s a simple matter, and it takes one second,” he said. This establishes a relationship between the case manager and a patient. Miller says eye contact reassures patients that the case manager is ready to listen and cares.

“There’s nothing as a medical professional you can ever do to make up for that. It’s done. It’s over,” said Miller. “You should have seen me as a human being even if I had been there in my jeans and T-shirt. You should have seen me.”

Miller also says that trust building can take time, and sometimes nurses may have a better shot than doctors because many patients don’t see nurses as coming from a background of privilege.

“The people who go into nursing tend to come from the school of sacrifice and hard knocks and struggle and so forth,” Miller said. “They understand and don’t come from privilege, so there’s a socioeconomic rapport there.”