The Impact of Racism and Midwifery's Lack of Racial Diversity: A Literature ReviewSymbol

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The United States is increasingly racially diverse. Racial disparities in maternal-child health persist. Despite national calls for workforce diversification, more than 90% of certified nurse-midwives are white. This systematic review examines how racism and midwifery's lack of racial diversity impact both midwives and their patients.


Databases were searched in January 2016 for studies that explored 1) racially concordant or racially discordant maternity care provided, at least in part, by midwives; 2) women of color's experience of race and discrimination in maternity care provided, at least in part, by midwives; and 3) midwives of color's experience of race and discrimination in clinical, educational, and/or professional settings. Studies were excluded if they were conducted outside the United States, focused on recent immigrant populations, or didn't have an English-language abstract. Selected studies were each reviewed by 2 independent reviewers, and data from the studies were entered into literature tables and synthesized for discussion.


A total of 7 studies was retained for review—3 on the experience of patients and 4 on the experience of providers. The studies show racism is common in midwifery education, professional organizations, and clinical practices. Racism and midwifery's lack of racial diversity act as a barrier to people of color completing midwifery education programs and fully participating in midwifery professional organizations. Both patients and midwives of color identified midwives of color as uniquely positioned to provide high-quality care for communities of color.


The midwifery profession and its patients stand to substantially benefit from diversification of the field, which requires addressing racism within the profession. Structural competency is a new theory that offers an effective framework to guide these efforts.

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