Stereotypes May Undermine Medical Care

Doctor in meeting with patientPeople who worry that their health care providers will stereotype or judge them are at a higher risk for health issues, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers found 17% of study participants feared being judged because of personal characteristics such as race, sex, or weight.

Stereotype Threat in Health Care

The study looked at stereotype threat—the theory that negative ideas about a group can influence the behavior and capabilities of group members. For instance, previous research has shown women taking standardized tests perform worse on the math section if they are aware of stereotypes about women’s math skills.

For the current study, researchers looked at 1,500 Americans as part of the United States Health and Retirement Study. Seventeen percent of survey respondents reported concerns about how their age, weight, social class, gender, or race might affect how health care providers perceive them.

The group most concerned about stereotypes was also more likely to have poor overall health, reporting higher rates of depression and high blood pressure and rating their health more negatively. They also expressed more distrust of doctors, more problems with the quality of their care, and were less willing to take advantage of preventive services, such as seasonal flu shots.

Do Public Health Campaigns Increase Stereotype Threat?

The research team says public health campaigns can increase awareness of a health issue, but they may also contribute to stereotype threat. For instance, weight-loss campaigns may lead people who are overweight to fear judgment by their doctors or cause their doctors to incorrectly attribute all of their health problems to their weight. Likewise, memory-loss campaigns targeted to older adults or safe-sex campaigns that address issues in the LGBT community could also contribute to stereotype threat. The researchers stress that communicating about these issues in a way that does not activate stereotype threat is key to better outcomes.


  1. How stereotypes hurt. (2015, October 20). Retrieved from
  2. Negative stereotypes have adverse effects on patients’ health. (2015, October 20). Retrieved from
  3. Stereotypes can hurt a patient’s care. (2015, October 20). Retrieved from

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  • Jonny


    October 20th, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    I guess that as a male I have never give this any thought. I guess that even doctors could be guilty of having their own personal stereotypes play into their medical decisions even when they don’t realize that they are doing it.

  • cole


    October 21st, 2015 at 3:50 AM

    We all have stereotypes that we have created in our minds about others from different background but when you are in a job that holds so much public responsibility to others then you cannot allow these to play a role in your decision making. Nor should they ever come into play when it comes to the level of care that you provide to a patient. To me that is one of the most unethical things that a medical provider could ever allow to happen in his practice.

  • Jeremiah


    October 21st, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    My thoughts on this are that if you are stereotyping then you are not taking a whole lot of time to get to know your patient and their own unique needs are you?

  • Jon H

    Jon H

    October 21st, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    There is no may undermine medical care.

    I think that it is pretty obvious that this can cause real harm in the healthcare system, just as it has in society as a whole. There is not much good that can ever come from thinking badly of another group of people just because you have some sort of preconceived notion of them.

  • Tjom


    October 22nd, 2015 at 12:34 PM

    I have been in the medical field for many years and I know plenty of professionals, real professionals, who would be appalled to think that one of their own would allow stereotypes to play into how they treat a patient.

  • Orphan Izzy

    Orphan Izzy

    December 2nd, 2015 at 4:55 PM

    And I bet these very same medical professionals who would be so appalled by this behavior are guilty of this themselves. I can tell you that the many medical professionals from doctors to nurses to pharmacists who have stereotyped me and mistreated me would be hard-pressed to admit they were doing it and that’s been the case when I’ve confronted them in a calm but direct way so …

  • DeShaun


    October 24th, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    I have faced stereotypical behavior from other people al my life. It is a struggle, believe me, but instead of fighting it with words and harshness I decided to show them academically that I was better than what they automatically thought about me. I worked hard, have done well for myself and I hope I have been able to rise above much of that negativity and nonsense. My lesson that I like to teach others is to become more than what they believe that you will ever achieve, that is the only way to get past this.

  • Orphan Izzy

    Orphan Izzy

    December 2nd, 2015 at 4:53 PM

    I have experienced multiple medical professionals fail to provide me with a good medical care because of stereotyping and so the fear of this is valid and in fact has prevented me from seeking medical care unless I’m dying for quite a few years. It’s a real problem and now that I’m seeking medical care again I’m experiencing the same exact thing only I’m dealing with it differently by trying to ignore it basically.

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