Diabetes can feel like a paint palette while you are the canvas. But it’s important to recognize the colors and hues of your patients as a diabetes healthcare provider.

With the lack of healthcare providers of color — specifically Black providers — it often feels like the only choice is a provider who does not share my background.

While learning about different cultures is always valuable, having a healthcare provider who understands my culture firsthand is priceless for a person with diabetes.

“Type white” diabetes”

Without that shared understanding and experience, many patients often go heard without being listened to while being stigmatized. As a person of color living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), this disease has commonly been referred to as “type white” diabetes, because there were significantly fewer people of color living with the disease.

Or so we thought.

Upon entering college, I was introduced and relieved to see that there were more T1Ds of color than I had ever realized. I no longer felt so alone, no longer the black girl with a “white” disease.

The problem is that people of color are not well represented in the face of diabetes care. Whether in doctor’s offices, advocacy, or social settings, the face of T1D had always remained the same.

Many providers probably don’t realize how detrimental this lack of representation could impact patients.

When “seeing color” isn’t racist or discriminatory

Here’s an example when it is very important to see color and more importantly pattern. To see color does not mean to be racist or discriminatory, but rather to be cognizant. Seeing color is a way of addressing the issue that:

  • People of color endure racial bias significantly more often than their White counterparts.
  • People of color endure colorism and health inequity within and outside of their communities.

It also important to understand that patients from African-American and Latino communities have lower rates of using modern diabetes technology and experience more diabetes complications than their counterparts from other racial groups. While this association may appear disheartening, this is not the end.

Providers can improve outcomes and relationships with patients by starting with the following:

  1. Check engine soon! Just as a mechanic has the ‘prescription’ to repair a car by listening to understand what may be going wrong, providers must listen intentionally to their patients to not only understand the needs of the patient, but to recognize that each patient within the same background may not respond the same way.
  2. Piece the puzzle. Healthcare is like a puzzle. There’s a lot of little pieces that need to be put together to form the bigger picture. Therefore, to see the bigger picture providers must look at the smaller pieces that contribute toward patient disparities and other issues within the community. Providers will then be able to address the overarching problem that needs to be tackled, such as literacy, accessibility, and trust, thus reducing disparities and improving health equity. There is no textbook answer of how to deal with a situation for a specific group of people. There is a vast difference between fixing a situation and being a catalyst for change. By simply listening to patients and including them in decisions every step of the way, you can become a catalyst.
  3. Patience is a virtue. Despite the many systematic issues within the healthcare system, there must be patience and persistence. To progress in the right direction, we must be diligent in our efforts to improve a patient’s trust in the healthcare system and their accessibility to diabetes education, modern technology, and respectful care. It is important that we give patients an area where they feel safe and providers they feel they can trust.

A great place to start: learn about your patients’ intersectionality. Today’s healthcare providers are swamped with too many patients and too little time. But patients of color have different experiences with health care providers, plagued by years of distrust and oppression, which require individualized care. Rather than knowing patients by their condition, get to know them by their interest, their culture, and their background.

YOUR VOICE AS A PERSON OF COLOR WITH T1D MATTERS: Join the T1D Exchange Registry to participate in online surveys and studies!