Benish Bagai, Medical College of Wisconsin MD Candidate
Guest Article by Benish Baqai, Medical College of Wisconsin MD Candidate, Class of 2024
As a prospective physician, it’s important for me to understand how my identity as a woman, a Pakistani American and a Muslim will inform my experiences. Through my projects with Aasim Padela, MD, and his team, I have obtained critical insight into how these identities will affect my future in medicine. In addition, working with Dr. Padela and his team allowed me to accomplish my personal and professional goals, and he and his team continue to help me expand my research skillset.
We examined the relationship between various sociodemographic and religion-related factors with perceived religious discrimination in health care among a sample of Muslim females in the U.S. We found that among basic sociodemographic characteristics, ethnicity and country of origin play a role in shaping experiences of religious discrimination in health care settings in Muslim women. Among religion-related factors, both self-rated religiosity and positive religious coping were negatively associated with perceived religious discrimination in medical settings, pointing to the protective role of religiosity and religious-based coping strategies in mitigating perceptions of discrimination. When we included ethnicity, country of origin, self-rated religiosity and PMIR-positive religious coping in a single regression model, differences between African American/Black participants and both Arab/Arab American and South Asian participants emerged. Muslim women who identify as African American/Black reported experiencing more religious discrimination in medical settings than their Arab/Arab American and South Asian peers. Furthermore, in the multivariable regression model, self-rated religiosity emerged as a significant mitigator of discrimination in medical settings, even when controlling for ethnicity, country of origin and positive religious coping effects.
Aasim Padela, MD
The results of our study have several important implications. A critical antecedent of prejudice and discrimination towards targeted social groups is the perception that they are homogenous. In fact, research shows that shifting people’s perceptions of how heterogeneous a group is can reduce discrimination towards that group. Despite this knowledge, social minority groups including Muslims, are often studied as monolithic entities within academic medicine. The findings from our study point to the importance of considering other social identities when studying Muslims. We found that there are differential experiences of discrimination within health care among Muslim American women based on their ethnicity. African American/Black Muslim women reported experiencing greater levels of discrimination within medical settings. While this is aligned with sociocultural trends in the U.S. context, these important differences between subgroups of people with a shared religious identity are often overlooked. Indeed, research shows that the Muslims and Arabs are often conflated and considered interchangeably. Our research challenges simplistic consideration of Muslim women specifically, and Muslims broadly, and highlights the importance of building a more nuanced understanding of Muslim American experiences in health care that accounts for intra-Muslim diversity.
Another implication of our research points to the complex role religion plays in shaping experiences with discrimination. In general, Muslims report experiencing religion-based discrimination within health care and some research shows they experience more discrimination in health care than their Christian peers. Muslim women are particularly susceptible to discrimination from health care providers because the embodiment of Islamic values for women are less concealable in society than the embodiment of those same values for men, making their religious identity more explicit. Interestingly, our study showed that the more religious the Muslim women considered themselves to be, the less discrimination they reported experiencing in medical settings, regardless of their ethnicity, country of origin and positive religious coping strategies. These findings highlight the enigmatic impact religious identity has on Muslim women’s experiences within health care. On the one hand, being Muslim attracts more discrimination within health care, and on the other hand, being more religious buffers against the perceived experience of discrimination. Given that religiosity can help reduce negative experiences with discrimination and has been linked to positive health outcomes, the health care system should create avenues to accommodate and promote patient religiosity.
The focus of our study was to understand the relationship between sociodemographic and religion-related factors with perceived religious discrimination in medical settings. The outcomes of our research are critical for understanding how religious minorities interface with the health care system and experience discrimination from their own perspective. These outcomes can be used to inform how we can help religious minorities overcome the negative effects of discrimination in health care and achieve better health outcomes. Future studies should continue to build a more granular understanding of how Muslims and other religious minorities engage with the health care system. Furthermore, it is critical to address discrimination in medical settings from the perspective of the perpetrators. Future studies should examine the prevalence of religious stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination among health care providers towards different religious groups and identify barriers to more religiously accommodating and accepting health care. Such knowledge is critical to informing interventions and policies to reduce religious discrimination within medicine in our increasingly diverse society.
Learn more about Benish and Doctor Padela’s research here.
The Foundation was pleased to support the research of Medical College of Wisconsin student Benish Baqai with her mentor Aasim I. Padela, MD, through the Foundation Fellowship program. Please consider supporting important medical research of Wisconsin physicians and students with the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation Fellowship Fund.
The Wisconsin Medical Society and Foundation are committed to increasing health equity and access and supporting a strong and diverse physician workforce. For more information on the Wisconsin Medical Society’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, or if you are interested in joining the task force, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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