As the United States contends with stark racial disparities in maternal health, experts are pushing states to mandate training for medical professionals to combat implicit bias, the prejudiced attitudes a person might hold without being aware of it. Lawmakers in more states are heeding that call.

Since 2019, at least five states (California, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota and New Jersey) have enacted laws mandating implicit bias training for maternal health care providers, according to Stateline research and an analysis by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. Lawmakers in at least 20 other states have introduced legislation related to implicit bias training for general health care professionals.

Virginia lawmakers recently approved similar legislation, sending it to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. He has not said whether he will sign it.

The training can take different forms. Some courses are offered online, while others can be one-day workshops. Participants typically examine certain scenarios and learn about the history and harms of racial stereotypes.

Sutton-El argues that the training can make a huge difference. She said that one white doctor who completed the training recently told her how it had influenced his treatment of a Black patient. She recalled him telling her: “I had your voice in my head that said, ‘Follow the patient down the rabbit hole, because you’ll find out what’s the real issue.’”

But others say implicit bias training can be insufficient or ineffective. Okunsola Amadou, a doula who founded Jamaa Birth Village, a midwifery clinic and maternal health nonprofit in Ferguson, Missouri, said bias trainings alone can’t change a hospital’s culture.

“The ultimate problem with that is that it is barely the surface,” Amadou said. “If they’re not working with [Black maternal health] pioneers who are rooted in this work to help them restructure, then the ‘click-and-go’ implicit bias trainings will not hold any weight at all.”

Tiffany Green, an associate professor at the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said her team’s review of studies on anti-bias trainings in clinical settings found little evidence that it led to long-term behavioral changes.

Because racism isn’t just an individual problem but a systemic one, Green said, institutions must combat bias at the organizational level. If done incorrectly, it can induce anger in white employees and exacerbate inequities, she said.

Read the full article about implicit bias training by Nada Hassanein at The19th.