EmpowHer NY and The Bloc  

The Call

While most acknowledge that healthcare has deeply embedded racial bias, this powerful illustration drives home just how entrenched bigotry can be.

The chilling video shows an actress phoning hospitals with an identical list of symptoms, indicating a life-threatening case of appendicitis. In some, she uses a “Black” name — Lakisha Washington — and a “Black” voice. In others, she presents herself as white woman named Sarah Shields. 

The results were jarringly clear. When using the “Black” identity, hospital screeners asked five times more questions, highlighting a lack of belief. More terrifying? In 77% of calls, the “Black” character resulted in a recommendation that she visit an urgent care facility, the protocol for minor issues, instead of the appropriate instruction to head to the ER.

“This was a harrowing insight,” says a judge. “It’s so potent, and a brilliant content generation idea. The audio is chilling.”

The campaign illuminates why so many people of color resort to “code-switching,” changing their voices to achieve better outcomes. The goal was to prove that unconscious bias in medicine is not a myth and that pain, when reported by women of color, is often treated with alarming disparity. And while Black women appreciate hearing their experiences validated, the true target was healthcare workers. Timed to International Women’s Day, the team edited the experiment into a shareable online video, then spread it through social media platforms, influencers and EmpowHer NY’s channels. 

The video captured 7 million views on the first day, with more than 450 people completing unconscious bias training through EmpowHer NY’s platform for doctors, medical students, nurses and other HCPs.