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Living Well with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Managing Ulcerative Colitis: What I Want My Patients of Color to Know

Medically Reviewed By Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD

I am a gastroenterologist and a woman of color, and I know how difficult it can be to navigate the healthcare system. I try to provide the highest quality care to all my ulcerative colitis patients, and I believe that with the right tools and education at their disposal, it’s possible to find the treatment you need despite the challenges. Here’s what I want my patients of color with ulcerative colitis to know.

1. Find a doctor you trust

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic problem that lasts a long time. That’s why connecting with the right doctor is crucial. Unfortunately, particularly in gastroenterology, there are fewer physicians of color – at least right now. That is changing, but in the meantime, look for someone who makes you feel comfortable, listened to, and respected. 

The right physician will practice cultural sensitivity – that means they are aware that things are potentially different than how they may initially perceive them based on someone’s cultural background. They’ll try to bring that understanding and awareness into how they care for you and the questions they ask you about your experiences and symptoms. They’ll want to partner with you in your care.

I think in a lot of cultures, doctors are placed on a pedestal, and patients don’t question what their physicians say or engage actively in their care. However, the best doctors are humble and open to the idea that they have a lot to learn from their patients. You are the one living with your condition, so they should take your thoughts and opinions into account when making treatment decisions. 

2. Make sure your doctor understands your symptoms

Advocate for what you’re experiencing. It’s not normal to have abdominal pain, diarrhea, or unrelenting rectal bleeding. If you feel like you’re not getting better after trying a few therapies, make sure to clearly communicate that to your gastroenterologist.

Everyone with ulcerative colitis has a different experience. If your gastroenterologist isn’t giving you the space to share what you’re going through, or makes you feel like a cookie cutter case, it’s worth it to find someone who will see you as an individual and make treatment decisions based on what you’re actually living with. 

3. Find support

You’re not alone on your path with ulcerative colitis. There is a strong advocacy presence for people with inflammatory bowel diseases. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is a huge organization that offers lots of resources, patient-centered information, local events, and support groups. They also share a directory of all the doctors nationwide that they’ve worked with, so you can find a trusted physician in your area. 

I also recommend that patients reach out to local centers that specialize in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) treatment for support and guidance. Additionally, if helpful to you, ask your gastroenterologist for a referral to a dietitian. Sometimes, they are covered by insurance or will work on a sliding scale, and they can be crucial members of your care team.

Living with ulcerative colitis is no easy feat, particularly for people of color. However, you’re not alone – there are organizations and resources out there to assist you, as well as caring, committed gastroenterologists who will be there with you every step of the way.

Hamita Sachar, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist and serves as the vice-chief of gastroenterology at the Yale School of Medicine. View her Healthgrades profile >

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Medical Reviewer: Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 Jan 24
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