Medicalization of Women’s Health


Obstetric medicine has always been fascinating to me. However, while trends and data can be noted by anyone, the processes discussed can only truly be experienced by women. As such, it can be complicated and sometimes disingenuous to speak about, as a man. Because of this, I will largely rely on articles and experiences shared by loved ones (each of whom consented to share their story).

Medicalization of Childbirth

Reproduction and childbirth are aspects so ingrained in the human experience. Many of us have already faced questions such as; do you want children? how many children do you want? etc. For an aspect of human life that seems so joyful and exciting, it can also be one of the scariest. This is especially true when it comes to women encountering childbirth. A 2018 study, researching the prevalence of tokophobia (the fear of childbirth) among pregnant women, found that 75% of respondents were classified in the low to moderate range while up to 25% of respondents were classified in the high to very high range of tokophobia [1]. As obstetric medicine has advanced, the context and setting of childbirth have continually evolved. What was once set in homes or birthing centers has moved to hospitals and operating rooms. The rise in the medicalization of childbirth arose concurrently with this change. The California Health Care Foundation cite the following statistics; 68% of women with vaginal births were given an epidural, 31% of women had a c-section, 85% of women with previous c-sections had a repeat c-section, and 14% of women had labor induced for non-evidence based reasons [2]. These numbers show the prevalence of medical intervention in the process of childbirth. 

“Fear of childbirth, also known as tokophobia or maieusiophobia, has been defined as a psychological disorder which ranges from insignificant to extreme fear of childbirth”

Demšar et al. [1]

According to a 2002 article in the British Medical Journal, the medicalization of childbirth has grown into interventions that are often unnecessary or not evidence-based [3]. This increased medicalization of childbirth paired with the predominance of hospital births likely affects the aforementioned high levels of tokophobia. While it may seem natural to fear a major event such as childbirth, it must be noted that increased fear of childbirth may correlate to increased levels of c-sections [4]. Furthermore, maternal anxiety can increase the likelihood of delivery complications (such as placental abruption) and congenital anomalies as seen with prenatal stress disorder.

While it may seem that these interventions are a negative and a medical overreach, it is necessary to understand the importance that these interventions can have. The example I often turn to when explaining my interest in obstetric care is the story of my birth. Just before my birth, my older brother found my mother (pregnant with me) semi-conscious laying on her bed, her sheets soaked in blood. She was rushed to the hospital where she underwent a premature emergency c-section. Throughout the night we were both in critical condition. Thankfully we both survived, and she was later told that she suffered from a uterine hemorrhage. Without the remarkable advancements in obstetric medical techniques and equipment, it is likely that neither of us would have survived. 

In the same way that a series of statistics cannot completely explain the state of medicalized childbirth, neither can one success story. This is a complicated issue that is not black or white. It is important to recognize and utilize the tools that have allowed us to decrease infant and maternal mortality. However, it must be noted when these tools are used inappropriately. Whether it comes in the form of ignoring preconceived birthing plans or improper informed consent processes, the increased medicalization of childbirth has whittled away at women’s decision-making capacities. Medical interventions need to be balanced and contained to allow for the highest level of care and comfort in the process of childbirth. 

PCOS and Simplistic Medicine

Another over medicalized area of women’s health is menstruation. One area of this that has been particularly impactful to me is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is a hormonal disorder in which the ovary accumulates cysts and becomes enlarged. Some symptoms include; irregular periods, excess body hair, weight gain and retention, and infertility [5]. According to the CDC, up to 5 million women experience PCOS [6]. 

“PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting 6% to 12% (as many as 5 million) of US women of reproductive age.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [6]

The reason PCOS is important to me is because of how it has impacted my family. My sister was recently diagnosed with PCOS. However, her path to diagnosis was anything but direct. After experiencing constant menstruation for over a month, she went to her doctor. She described the meeting as short and dismissive. She was given two options; start an oral contraceptive or lose weight. Several months and multiple doctors later, she was being given the same answers. She believed she had PCOS and feared birth control would mask the irregular menstruation symptom, impeding any further diagnosis. Furthermore, the only other option was to lose weight; misconstruing a symptom for a cause. 

She eventually received the PCOS diagnosis, but this was not before several months of discomfort, embarrassment, and dismissal from her doctors. The Martin article discussed how the language around menstruation is often that of dysfunction or degradation [7]. However, in a typical menstruation cycle, those negative connotations can at least be partially ameliorated by connotations of regrowth, but not for my sister. She lived in that state, so often negatively connoted, for months without cessation. Her experience was one of lack of access, treatment, and dialogue, and of increased simplistic medicalization. Her two options were to accept blame for her state and “lose weight” or to accept the medicalized option of oral contraceptives.


While these are two snapshots of the medicalized state of women’s health, they are far from comprehensive. A more holistic view must examine the cause of these issues and where they overlap. Though a disorder like PCOS and medicalized childbirth may seem very different at the surface level, they share a lack of communication and a reduction in the voice of those affected. Just as pregnant mothers have fewer options so too do women suffering from disorders like PCOS have their choices minimalized; both favoring the simplest medicalized paths.


[1] Demšar, Karin, et al. “Tokophobia (Fear of Childbirth): Prevalence and Risk Factors.” Journal of Perinatal Medicine, vol. 46, no. 2, 2018, pp. 151–154.,

[2] “Infographic: The Overmedicalization of Childbirth.” California Health Care Foundation, California Health Care Foundation, 21 Aug. 2019,

[3] Johanson, R. “Has the Medicalisation of Childbirth Gone Too Far?” BMJ, vol. 324, no. 7342, 2002, pp. 892–895.,

[4] Ryding, Elsa Lena, et al. “Fear of Childbirth during Pregnancy May Increase the Risk of Emergency Cesarean Section.” Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica, vol. 77, no. 5, 1998, pp. 542–547.,

[5] “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).” Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) | Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, 28 Feb. 2022,

[6] “PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2022,,US%20women%20of%20reproductive%20age.

[7] Martin, Emily. “Medical Metaphors of Women’s Bodies: Menstruation and Menopause.” International Journal of Health Services, vol. 18, no. 2, 1988, pp. 237–254.,

Social Determinants of Health for Migrant Farm Workers

Migrant Workers picking strawberries Source: Unsplash1

The healthcare system in the United States boasts some of the most cutting-edge technology and research, but this high quality of care is not evenly distributed. For minorities, such as Latinos living in rural areas, their health is controlled by social, economic, and political determinants. We have studied these social determinants of health in class, and learned that determinants are:

“The conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality of life outcomes and risks.”

Healthy People 20302

While I agree that the facts and statistics about the number of people affected are important to know, I would like to share a couple of stories that show the people hidden between all those numbers. I was reminded of them after having read the Nature article by Amy Maxmen which discussed how farm worker disparities are due to their social determinants of health.3

Working at a berry farm for three years was a wonderful opportunity because I got to learn about agriculture and work alongside 200+ workers from Mexico in order to harvest over 400 acres of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and muscadines. The work was not for the faint of heart because it required seven days work weeks in blistering humid Arkansas heat and resulted in millions of pounds of produce each season. This became even more challenging when the company limited workers’ contact with the outside world in an attempt to reduce the chances of the Corona virus running rampant in the small rooms that housed anywhere from six to fifteen people. It was amidst all the craziness that comes with harvesting crops, that I got to know some of the workers such as Rosita and Jose and realized just how many adversities they must overcome in order to receive medical care.

Overview look of lake and blackberry field Source: Lucero Chena4

Rosita, The Spokeswoman

If you ever need someone to control a group of over 200 rowdy adults with one word, Rosita is the one you call. She was the unofficial spokeswoman for all the workers and was the first to voice everyone’s concerns about the COVID vaccine when it was offered at the farm. All they were told was that if any worker wished they to receive the vaccine they could do so for free. This news though exciting for some was also troublesome for others because they wanted some more information before making a decision. A week before the vaccine was to be administered, I was tasked with asking everyone whether or not they wished to receive the vaccine but was warned by my supervisor to not offer my opinion or answer questions because I was not a medical professional and could be held liable if something were to happen. Rosita was the first to bombard me with questions, but at that time, all I was able to share was that physicians are required to inform a patient of any possible side effects and must sign an informed consent form.5 The only problem with that is that the doctor had sent said forms, but they were in English. It took a lot of research and persuasion before the company agreed to prepare a meeting in which a doctor would address the workers’ concerns and hand out a Spanish version of the possible side effects.

Rosita’s story is just one of millions that highlight how language, education access, and socioeconomic status play a role in a person’s health. There are many Non-English speaking migrants that are not comfortable going to the doctor out of fear that the appointment or medication may be too expensive or based on previous frustrations from trying to communicate with the doctor. Many Latinos who do not speak English are less likely to receive medical care6 or are less informed of the medical situation due to the language barrier.7

Lake scene from farm where I worked Source: Lucero Chena8

Jose, The Veteran

By my second year, I had become the farm medic and would treat any minor injuries or acquire medication during the first year when the farm was on lockdown. I would often help the workers before or after their shift, so it wasn’t surprising that Don Jose, a man who has been working at the farm for over twenty years, was there to greet me at six thirty in the morning as I opened up the store for the day. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises are common occurrences at a farm, but when Jose began to limp into the store to ask for pain medication, I knew that the situation was more serious than he was letting on. It took a lot of convincing and promises that he would not have to miss work before he finally explained that he had hit his leg had hit a nail on the edge of a trailer when he was loading boxes of fruit, and when he finally showed me his shin, I informed my manager of the situation. During his lunch break, he was taken to a clinic an hour away where the doctor informed the other farm interpreter that the wound on his shin had become infected and would need to be cleaned daily for two weeks before asking he schedule a follow up appointment. He was told to rest his leg for three days and keep it elevated to reduce the swelling, but Jose went back to work the next day after I disinfected his wound. He continued to work with his injured leg until the end of that harvesting season where he returned to Mexico to treat his wound.

Aside from the vulnerability due to language barriers and lack of access to education, farm workers also face physical, political, and economical barriers that prevent them from seeking adequate care. Many might wonder why Jose didn’t just inform someone of his injury immediately after it occurred. The reason for that is out of fear that his injury would put him out of work and cost him a lot of money to get it looked at. In the agriculture business, migrant workers are supposed to be paid a flat hourly rate and a piece rate pay, but there are many owners who violate these wage laws or decide to return the worker to their country if they are not picking quick enough.9 Farm owners are also not required to provide healthcare insurance for their workers because they are seasonal employees. All of these circumstances drive many workers like Jose to work through injuries instead of seeking medical care.10


Although I focused on the social determinants of health of two people and how their categories affected their healthcare outcomes, these determinants apply to everyone’s life. Research continues to show us the relation between the social determinants and the disparities in healthcare for minority groups such as Latinos. These disparities were especially brought under scrutiny during the COVID pandemic, but now having acknowledged that they exist, it is time to start work to eliminate these disparities and make healthcare more accessible for everyone. I know that when those changes do come, they will be because of people like Rosita and Jose, not because of some statistics we read somewhere.

Works Cited

1Mossholder, Tim. “Strawberry Picking.” Unsplash, 21 July 2021,

2“Healthy People 2030,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,

3Maxmen, Amy. “Inequality’s Deadly Toll.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 28 Apr. 2021,

4 Chena, Lucero. “Lake and Blackberry Field View.” 6 June 2020.

5 Commissioner. “Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccines.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA,

6Taira, D A. “Improving the Health and Health Care of Non-English-Speaking Patients.” Journal of General Internal Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 1999,,care%20than%20English%2Dspeaking%20patients.

7Al Shamsi, Hilal, et al. “Implications of Language Barriers for Healthcare: A Systematic Review.” Oman Medical Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Apr. 2020,,a%20problem%20understanding%20their%20healthcare.

8 Chena, Lucero. “Gazebo Over Lake.” 6 June 2020.

9 Robinson, Erin, et al. “Wages, Wage Violations, and Pesticide Safety Experienced by Migrant Farmworkers in North Carolina.” New Solutions: a Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy : NS, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011,

10Bail, Kari M., et al. “The Impact of Invisibility on the Health of Migrant Farmworkers in the Southeastern United States: A Case Study from Georgia.” Nursing Research and Practice, Hindawi, 1 July 2012,

A Different Crisis at the Border

The deteriorating health of the Rio Grande Valley

I was born and raised in McAllen, Texas—a region nestled along the border between the United States and Mexico. I love that I have been able to grow up in such a unique community filled with joy and grit.

Because we are a border community, we are 94.2% Hispanic or LatinX as of 2021. This area is a predominantly LatinX community, and gleams with pride in numerous colorful outdoor markets, delicious taco stands, and electric fiestas. As a borderland, you get the best of both worlds: reaping the benefits of living in one of the most modernized countries in the world, while also immersed in a vibrant Mexican culture. Do they, though?

This wasn’t until my grandfather was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkins-Lymphoma disease and my family had to make the difficult decision to move to Houston, Texas—about 7 hours away from the Rio Grande Valley—just so that my grandfather would have the best opportunity to beat his cancer. There were hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley, but I did not realize they were unable to provide the accurate care my grandfather needed. I started to question why this was.

2 years later, my 9th grade English teacher suffered from a massive stroke during class. Thankfully, after a couple of months, she made a miraculous full recovery and was back in the classroom. During this time, however, I was researching “What causes a stroke?” “What is high blood pressure?” “What is diabetes?” “What causes obesity?” I was asking so many questions and I was making connections between these phenomenons happening before my eyes. After the premature research I was able to conduct, I came to the realization that my hometown was in a crisis. A severe public health crisis.

Rio Grande Valley border bridge
Source: ValleyCentral

Social Determinants of Health

This region also boasts high rates of poverty, where 29.5% of residents live in poverty. With that, 34.1% of the population lack health insurance coverage. Not to mention, the Rio Grande Valley has a population of approximately 1.3 million people, and 200 to 250 thousand are undocumented individuals. It is also known that undocumented immigrants have significantly lower rates of health coverage. These demographics are an unfortunate medley that allow for social determinants of health to take over and deteriorate the health of my hometown. It it as if the already-broken health care system’s flaws are further amplified in the Rio Grande Valley, as the region suffers from high levels of obesity and diabetes. Not to mention, because of the higher immigrant population, there are higher barriers to the access of health care as well. Not only do individuals visit the doctor to address their intoxication from pesticides from their crop-picking job, but they will also attend that doctor’s visit with the fears of potentially being deported. Fragmented care also plays a major role in the declining health care within the Rio Grande Valley as individuals are forced to switch in and out of primary care physicians as an attempt to deflect any immigration-related accusations. Undoubtedly, there is a constant fear within immigrant communities of deportation, and because the Rio Grande Valley’s close proximity to the U.S-Mexico border, this fear is heightened since there is a stronger presence of United States border patrol agents. Not to mention, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) explicitly excluded undocumented immigrants from accessing health care—further pushing undocumented immigrants from obtaining the care they so desperately need.

But we’re not just about the border wall or the river…We’re about being fat, we’re about being poor, we’re about being illiterate.

Rose Timmer, long-time resident of Brownsville, TX

Food Insecurity to COVID-19

Another important and crucial crisis within the Rio Grande Valley’s health is food insecurity. Although this region lacks food access, it also has one of the highest rates of obesity in the United States. This is primarily due to this being a food desert, where fresh food options are scarce, but fast food options are excessive. It seems as if everywhere you go, you will not be more than a mile away from a McDonald’s, Whataburger, or a local taco stand. You will, however, struggle to find a grocery store near you that carries fresh fruits and vegetables that are not deep-fried. Even if individuals are lucky enough to access fresh fruits and vegetables, many will be unable to afford them as poverty levels remain high. The low socioeconomic status that impedes individuals from accessing the appropriate ingredients to supply a healthy and nutritious meal are rare, yet fast food is everywhere.

Taco stand in Brownsville, Texas
Source: Pinterest

The food insecurity and food deserts within the community are slowly attacking my community and worsening the obesity and diabetes epidemic within the Valley. Because of this, the COVID-19 pandemic was also detrimental to the region, as COVID-19 blazed through the Rio Grande Valley. Because of the social determinants of health that have put the Valley in such a vulnerable position, the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on the Rio Grande Valley compared to other regions of Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is 3% of Texas’ population and was 9% of total COVID-19 deaths.

They are more at risk because of where they work and where they live, and because of limited access to health care

Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz, professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health

The higher rates of obesity and diabetes put the community at a higher risk and was evident as Rio Grande Valley hospitals were at maximum capacity. Even when hospitals were overflowing with COVID-19 patients, Texas governor, Greg Abbott only lifted social distancing and opened Texas back up.

Hospital in Edinburg, Texas during COVID-19
Source: Texas Tribune

The Future of the Rio Grande Valley

In 2016, the Rio Grande Valley welcomed its inaugural University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine class, and graduated its first doctors in 2020 with the hopes of bringing a new generation of doctors who are properly equipped to serve a community who is in dire need of empathetic doctors who understand that their situation is a systemic issue, not a personal issue.

Inaugural UTRGV School of Medicine Class
Source: Texas Monthly

The Rio Grande Valley needs home-grown physicians who will understand the social determinants of health that have led them into their offices and will advocate for them. The future of the Rio Grande Valley is bright, but this brightness will be dulled unless we take legislative action to provide adequate health care for all—regardless of immigration status.

Works Cited:

Blackburn, Christine Crudo, and Lidia Azurdia Sierra. “Anti-immigrant rhetoric, deteriorating health access, and COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.” Health security 19.S1 (2021): S-50.

Champagne, Sarah R., and manuel fergus. “South Texas hospitals are running out of beds.” The Texas Tribune, 4 July 2020, Accessed 18 February 2023.

Dickman, Samuel L., David U. Himmelstein, and Steffie Woolhandler. “Inequality and the health-care system in the USA.” The Lancet 389.10077 (2017): 1431-1441.

Galvin, Gaby, and Cecelia Smith. “A Battle for Community Health in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.”, 16 May 2018, Accessed 18 February 2023.

Hampton, Tylisa. “RGV could suffer if undocumented immigrants aren’t counted in the 2020 Census.”, 16 September 2020, Accessed 19 February 2023.

“Health Coverage and Care of Immigrants.” KFF, 20 December 2022, Accessed 18 February 2023.

Narea, Nicole. “How coronavirus devastated Texas’s vulnerable Rio Grande Valley.” Vox, 8 August 2020, Accessed 18 February 2023.

“Obesity and Diabetes Reports in Rio Grande Valley to Texas 2004-2018 8.5×11 Final Version.” RGV Health Connect, Accessed 18 February 2023.

“Rio Grande City city, Texas.” Census Bureau, Accessed 18 February 2023.

Shmerling, Robert H. “Is our healthcare system broken?” Harvard Health, 13 July 2021, Accessed 18 February 2023.

“Social Determinants of Health – Healthy People 2030 |” Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Accessed 19 February 2023.

Wilson, Sarah. “The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley hits the ground running as UT system’s newest institution.” Texas Monthly, Accessed 19 February 2023.

Advancing Medicine and Medical Treatment: Our Salvation or Downfall?

Better Medical Resources ≠ Better Medical Care

Over the past century, humans have made incredible progress in our understanding of medical ailments and how to properly provide treatment to those affected by them. Major advancements in the development of technology and different medications have played a significant role in this growth of the medical field. With instruments that allow us to better study human pathogens, screen for various diseases, provide extremely precise care, and much more, we are living in a world in which people of the past never would have thought could exist. Within about 120 years, we have progressed from a nation where an average of one in every 40 Americans die annually to a significantly lower rate of about one in every 120 Americans and, although this average rate is affected by numerous factors, discoveries and advancements in the medical field have played a tremendous role in its steady improvement (Penn Wharton, 1). One cannot deny the benefits technology has provided us in our quality and duration of life, however, technology has also been a driving force of widening disparity within our healthcare system. Despite continuous breakthroughs in medical care through the use of technology, many of these new forms of care remain inaccessible to a majority of the population and distort our views of the medical world. The diabetic population clearly illustrates this growing disparity within the healthcare system and demonstrates our need to improve current policies to better utilize the incredible achievements we have made as a species.

 “Living with diabetes means people usually don’t realize or understand what you’re living with”

Nick Jonas

What is Diabetes and How Does Technology/Medication Play a Role?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system irreversibly destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone released by our body in response to the consumption of food as it allows glucose within the bloodstream to be taken up by cells for the production of ATP. For a diabetic that has lost the ability to produce insulin, that glucose will remain in the bloodstream and prevent cells from producing energy for the body while leading to many negative effects, such as the blood becoming acidic, loss of vision, damaged nerves, kidney failure, amputation of limbs, and much more. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition, meaning once a person is diagnosed, they will live with the disease for the rest of their life. Furthermore, it is a condition that requires 24/7 monitoring and care, often leading to drastic changes within a person’s everyday life and causing their whole world to revolve around this medical condition. Just over 100 years ago, a diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence in which a child, as type 1 diabetes is primarily diagnosed in early childhood, would not be expected to live more than 3 years (Distiller, 3). However, medical discoveries and major advancements in technology have provided patients with the ability to live full and high quality lives as we now have access to synthetic insulin, insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), improved education, and more. It is impossible to deny the tremendous amount of good these technological and medical achievements have made in the lives of people living with such a life-altering condition, however, this also begs the question of how there can be such large disparities in the quality of life for a disease we now know so much about and have incredible resources for managing. 

“We have the greatest hospitals, doctors, and medical technology in the world – we need to make them accessible to every American.”

Barbara Boxer

Barriers to Medical Care and our Misconceptions of Diabetes Management 

In today’s world, we have access to insulin pumps that will automatically deliver precise amounts of insulin, CGMs that allow a person to know their exact blood sugar at any given moment without the need for finger pricks, inhalable glucagon that saves lives when used during hypoglycemic emergencies, and so much more. So why is diabetes still such a hard disease to manage? Aside from the fact that diabetes is an irregular disorder that may still have complications regardless of near-perfect management, the primary barrier to effective diabetes management remains access to supplies. A majority of diabetics struggle to access the life-saving medical supplies we have available that transform a burdensome and debilitating condition into one that is manageable. This disparity in access is due to a number of factors, however, the main barrier remains the cost of insulin and diabetes technology. While various technologies such as insulin pumps and CGMs greatly improve a person’s ability to manage diabetes and can have life-changing results, it is still possible to manage one’s condition without these technologies through the use of traditional insulin syringes and finger pricks. Insulin, however, is required for a person with diabetes as they cannot survive without it. As previously mentioned in this discussion, insulin is needed to take up glucose from the blood for energy production and when insulin is not present, the body will turn to other sources for energy. The method for providing energy that the body primarily turns to is a process in which fat is converted into energy, however, unlike the regular process involving glucose, this secondary process produces ketones as a byproduct. This results in the buildup of ketones within the blood, turning it acidic and leading to a life threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Aside from this dangerous condition, sustained levels of elevated blood sugar can also lead to the many debilitating long term consequences that were mentioned earlier, such as loss of vision, kidney function, feeling in extremities, and limbs. This is why insulin is essential for not only living a high quality life, but for survival itself. With over 1 million diabetics having to ration their life saving insulin everyday, our healthcare system needs a dramatic change (Norton, 1). 

Bottle of insulin injection with a syringe on black table and stainless steel background.

Why is Insulin so Expensive?

According to Ashley Driesbach’s research, a study conducted in 2018 found that on average it costs about $2.28-$3.42 to produce a single vial of human insulin and a year’s worth of insulin only costs $48-$71 per diabetic patient (Driesbach, 8). So how can so many people still be struggling to afford their life saving medication? The answer comes down to the lack of regulations surrounding the major insulin-producing companies. Insulin is manufactured by just three major companies: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi (Martínez, 1). These companies face very few regulations in how they manufacture and sell their product, which is what allows them to increase the selling price of insulin to about $25-$100 per vial for older insulins and $174-$300 per vial for newer insulins merely for the sake of profits. Although insurance may help with some of the cost, many people with insurance are still forced to pay a hefty amount out of pocket and those without insurance are often left helpless (SingleCare, 6). A study from 2019 and 2020 found that insured diabetics were still forced to pay an average of $35 for a 30-day supply of insulin while many others are forced to pay more (Lovelace, 11). Recent studies have also shown that this inflation crisis is only getting worse as insulin prices have increased by about 600% over the last 20 years (Inskeep, 1). The cost of insulin has proven to be a major barrier to diabetics living a full and healthy life and as this crisis continues to worsen, leading to the deaths of people around the globe that could have been prevented with access to insulin, many are wondering what can we do as a society to solve this problem.

“Universal coverage, not medical technology, is the foundation of any caring health care system.”

Richard Lamm

What needs to be done

Reducing the growing disparity diabetic patients face in accessing their medical supplies and technology is something that needs to happen, but there is no clear and simple solution for achieving this. From reading the current research and hearing the life experiences of diabetics around the world, I believe our best chance at reducing this disparity is reducing the cost of diabetes supplies. Although there may be other factors that make accessing medical supplies difficult for a diabetic, cost of insulin and other diabetes supplies remains the most significant barrier as insulin pumps themselves cost an average of $4,500-$6,500 (Vaida, 16). To help alleviate some of the financial burden faced by millions of Americans living with diabetes, we must form new policies that regulate these costs, whether that be introducing policies to provide greater healthcare coverage for uninsured patients, policies that require insurance companies to cover more of the costs for things like insulin and insulin pumps, or policies that regulate the major insulin-producing companies and how much they can sell their product for. It is difficult to say when policies such as these may become possible or if they will ever become possible, as the US is still a long way away from adopting universal healthcare and pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies have remained relatively free to make decisions that directly benefit them at the expense of their “customers” for decades. Whether or not policies such as these are achieved in the US someday, we must continue to raise awareness of the issue as healthcare costs continue to be a widespread epidemic that plagues non only diabetics, but millions of Americans affected by other conditions as well.

Works Cited

Catastrophic spending on insulin in the United States, 2017–18. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, December 30). Types of insulin. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from

Distiller L. A. (2014). Why do some patients with type 1 diabetes live so long?. World journal of diabetes5(3), 282–287.

Drugmakers that dominate the world’s insulin market must scale up access efforts globally. Access to Medicine Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2023, from,%2Dincome%20countries%20(LMICs).

Facts. JDRF. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2023, from,to%20have%20T1D%20by%202040.

Inskeep, S., & Aubrey, A. (2022, September 12). Insulin costs increased 600% over the last 20 years. states aim to curb the price. NPR. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from,patients%20ration%20this%20lifesaving%20drug.

NBCUniversal News Group. (2022, July 24). Why is insulin still so expensive for diabetes patients in the U.S.? Retrieved February 20, 2023, from

NBCUniversal News Group. (n.d.). Insulin costs will be capped in 2023, but most people with diabetes won’t benefit. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from

Over a million Americans are rationing insulin due to high cost. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

PPI, W. (2018, December 19). Mortality in the United States: Past, present, and future. Penn Wharton Budget Model. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from,of%20more%20than%20two%20thirds.

Team, S. C. (2023, February 8). How much does insulin cost? The Checkup. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from,133%20per%20patient%20per%20year.

Vaida, B. (n.d.). What diabetic supplies do I need, and what are the costs? – goodrx. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

Xplore. (n.d.). Medical Technology quotes. BrainyQuote. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from

Disparities in Rural Healthcare as seen on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation

Through the Contemporary Concerns in Medicine course, we have learned about flaws in the United States healthcare system and have determined that current policies do not provide high quality care for all people.  One particular group that receives inadequate healthcare is Americans living in rural regions of the country.  Among the worst off are Native Americans living on reservations.  

In high school, I traveled to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, one of the largest of the 326 Native American reservations on US territory (Indian Affairs (IA)).  This was an immersive trip and part of my high school’s effort to educate students on disadvantaged communities within the United States.  In learning about the conditions on the reservation, I was most surprised to learn about the poor healthcare available on the reservation and the diminished healthcare outcomes for Native Americans living on the reservation.  Taking both the knowledge I learned from my travels to Pine Ridge, and our discussions on disparities in the U.S. healthcare system in this class, it is clear that the Pine Ridge reservation is an example of how the US healthcare system does not support all people living in this country.  

The Pine Ridge Reservation was established in 1889, encompasses 2.1 million acres of southwest South Dakota, and is located near Rapid City, South Dakota and Badlands National Park (Strickland).  Roughly 18,000 people live on the reservation with the majority of residents identifying as part of the Oglala Lakota Native American tribe who consider the Black Hills of South Dakota their ancestral lands (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Facts | Re-Member).  People living on Pine Ridge have some of the worst health and are among America’s poorest with a per capita income of $8,768.  Life expectancy on the reservation is the lowest in the entire U.S. with women having a life expectancy of 52 years and men having a life expectancy of 48 years (Shift).  89% of people on the reservation are unemployed, and a reported 53.75% live in poverty, and some estimate the poverty rate to exceed 80% (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Facts | Re-Member).  Additionally, Native Americans on Pine Ridge see an excess of tuberculosis, infant mortality, suicide, alcoholism, cervical cancer, diabetes, car crashes, and unintended injuries (Shift).  Further, very few hospitals exist on the reservation and within the surrounding area, meaning residents have to travel great distances for care.  Only one true hospital exists on the entire 2.1 million acre reservation which is the Pine Ridge Hospital.  Despite being responsible for a population of 18,000 people, this hospital has only 45 beds and 16 physicians (Pine Ridge Service Unit | Healthcare Facilities).  The available care is still significantly worse than care received at other hospitals.  In 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ended the provider agreement with Pine Ridge Hospital, preventing the hospital from being able to bill Medicare for services.  This decision was made due to reports of misdiagnoses and inadequate care that put patients at risk for “imminent injury, serious harm, death or impairment” (Abourezk).  The combined effects of extreme poverty and limited access to adequate care causes Native Americans on Pine Ridge experience extremely poor health.

Disparities in healthcare are caused and exacerbated by a variety of factors, including a lack of access to insurance, inability to afford medical care due to cost-sharing, geographic barriers, illness-based disparities, and institutional racism (Dickman et al).  All of these issues can be seen on the Pine Ridge reservation and contribute to the decreased health outcomes for Native Americans.  At present, the US has no national health care plan, and healthcare is primarily tied to employment  (Shmerling).  For the people in Pine Ridge, 89% of people are unemployed, meaning most do not have reliable health insurance or must rely on Medicaid for insurance.  Even for those who are insured or qualify for Medicaid, cost-sharing and out of pocket costs for specialty services can be expensive and not feasible for the many residents of Pine Ridge who live in poverty. As is common with healthcare in many rural regions, Pine Ridge has extremely few healthcare facilities, and aside from the Pine Ridge hospital, there are only two other facilities on the reservation with limited providers and services (Pine Ridge Service Unit | Healthcare Facilities).  

Roland left the reservation for the first time in his life in April, when he was airlifted to a hospital in Rapid City for an emergency surgery after he slipped in the snow and shattered his hip while chopping firewood. Only able to move with the help of a walker, Roland, who wears a dirt-covered jacket and repeatedly pulls up his oversized jeans as they sag from his waist, says he will never be able to pay the $2,000 in medical bills through the small amounts of cash he gets doing odd jobs for neighbors and ranchers.


Additionally, several of the illnesses plaguing Pine Ridge residents such as substance abuse and mental health conditions are not adequately treated for and exhibit illness-based disparities.  With limited health centers and practicing physicians, treatment for psychiatric care is limited in Pine Ridge despite the widespread incidence of mental health conditions and substance abuse among residents.  Psychiatric care is oftentimes an out of pocket cost not covered by insurance plans, meaning low income families may not be able to afford these services (Dickman et al).  Systemic racism also affects Native Americans on reservations.  During the U.S. westward expansion, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral land and placed on reservations.  Beyond this, Native American communities have experienced massive injustice, including massacres such as the 1889 Wounded Knee massacre at Pine Ridge and placement in conversion schools.   For decades, the U.S. government did not provide healthcare to Native Americans despite stipulations in reservation treaties dictating the government must provide for these needs.  This history of oppression has placed them at an economic disadvantage, and to this day federal programs and infrastructure on reservations are underfunded and underdeveloped.  These systemic issues have direct effects on the health of Native American people (Ferguson and Solomon et al).

The present-day poverty gripping many indigenous communities – on and off reservations – is firmly rooted in the historical laundry list of massacres, ethnic cleansing, land theft and broken treaties endured by indigenous people in North America.


Native Americans experience significant problems in accessing healthcare and experience worse health outcomes than the majority of people living in the United States.  This is a serious injustice that contributes to massive suffering among Native American communities and must be addressed.   Many initiatives from well-known organizations are in progress to address the social determinants of health that apply to rural communities such as efforts by the Association of American Medical Colleges to educate new physicians on healthcare in rural regions and how to treat patients in rural areas.  Additionally, the US Department of Health and Human Services included rurality as a social factor that affects health in its report to Congress to inform Medicare purchasing programs (Social Determinants of Health for Rural People Overview – Rural Health Information Hub).  However, in discussing the issue of health disparities in rural communities, the significant disadvantages that Native Americans face are lumped together with the larger issue of inadequate rural healthcare.  There is a lack of awareness and understanding of the considerations specific to Native American reservations, especially with respect to healthcare.  

The problem of healthcare on reservations is vastly complicated, involves the interplay of economic and social factors, and is rooted in historic mistreatment of the Native American community.  In my opinion, a critical first step in rectifying healthcare disparities is increasing the number of practicing physicians on reservations.  This could be accomplished by incentivizing physicians to work in Pine Ridge or by encouraging and providing access for community members to gain an education to become a physician.  Additional work could be done in expanding insurance coverage and in tackling extreme poverty occurring on the reservation.  

Severe mistreatment of Native Americans is a part of U.S. history that is not always acknowledged, but still impacts their community today.  Healthcare is a basic human right, and the fact that Native Americans experience barriers in accessing health care due to their initial displacement in the 1800s is disheartening and adequately addressed.  It is important to continue educating people about this issue to reach any progress and improve conditions for these communities who called U.S. territory home well before the majority of Americans.

Strickland, Patrick. “Life on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation.” Human Rights | Al Jazeera, 2 Nov. 2016,

The Reality of Nursing Home Aides

20 February 2023

This summer I worked my first job as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a state nursing home in a predominantly white suburb of Philadelphia. This would be my first patient contact experience in healthcare, but I learned more about society and the healthcare system from the people I worked with than the residents I took care of.

As an aide I would be responsible for bathing, transferring, toileting, and feeding my assigned residents on the dementia floor of this nursing home in my 7am-3pm shift. Everyday I worked alongside a team of nurses and aides, of which the majority were from the African country of Sierra Leone. Other than the activities director, I was the only non-black worker on the floor last summer.

One common occurrence last summer was the way coworkers rotating on the same floor as me would assume that I was the nurse. I wore a surgical mask, scrubs and dirty shoes like every other aide, no makeup, and no jewelry, so this was probably based on my phenotypic differences from the other workers. The difference in my appearance other than my size and age were my straight hair and my biracial tan skin tone.

…coworkers rotating on the same floor as me would assume that I was the nurse.

Still, at least twice a week, a coworker would begin asking me a medical question, and I would quickly cut them off and direct them to the nurse on the floor.

Image from

 This was a firsthand experience seeing how racial differences are associated with higher status even to people of color and in health care. While this assumption was not an insult to me, it was showing her internal bias that a black person such as herself would have a job that requires less education and a non-black person would have a job requiring a higher degree.

From the beginning, I struggled at the physical demands of this job. I would need to ask for help, adding to my workload of my coworkers who would reluctantly assist me.  At the end of the first week they made it clear they did not think I would be able to do this job.  Little by little I gained the trust of my coworkers that I would be able to handle a full workload as they do, turning obese residents and working efficiently enough to care for thirteen plus residents at a time.

I remember one day a coworker, an African aide, asking me about my ethnicity. I told her my dad was born in the Philippines and my mother was white. I remember her saying, “Oh that is why you are so beautiful, your mother is white.”  Later in the conversation she confided to me how stressful this job is for her, and further how she believes this job is ‘meant for black people.’

“Oh that is why you are so beautiful, your mother is white.” 

I remember not knowing how to respond, but I later understood why my abilities were underestimated when I first started. I think my coworkers could not grapple with someone from a non-black race sharing their same workload.

Both of these occurrences remind me of the Desmond and Emirbayer article that describes this “internalized racism” in which “people of color often internalize prejudice at their own racial group, unintentionally contributing to the reproduction of racial domination” (Desmond and Emirbayer, 2009: 346). The racial based comments my coworkers made were never offensive, showing how society gives my half-whiteness a higher, respectable status.

As seen in the US Health Care System Profile, “There is no universal coverage for long term care services” for Medicare or private insurance users. Public spending in the United States for long term care facilities, such as the state nursing home where I worked, represents “approximately 70 percent of total spending on long-term care services, with Medicaid accounting for the majority” (Tikkanen et al., 2020). The lack of funding for workers at this nursing home would be one of its biggest problems.

Image from

Three to five aides would be on a floor and have to provide for fifty-five residents of which the majority needed total assistance, making this job nearly impossible to give each person the care and attention they deserved. The lack of funding to nursing homes like this shows in the lack of supplies available to our residents, hurting their quality of care. Lack of funding also contributes to the low wages for both aides and nurses that would often work doubles, 7am-11pm multiple times a week. While I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment I got from my job, I did not have the stamina to do what they did.

Three to five aides would be on a floor and have to provide for fifty-five residents of which the majority needed total assistance, making this job nearly impossible

The stress and burnout of this job that I noticed in my coworkers manifested itself in habits and physical appearances.  One thing I noticed about my coworkers was how common it was for the aides to use their fifteen minute break to smoke cigarettes, as well as how many of the aides and nurses I worked with were experiencing obesity.  As seen in the Remote Area Medical movie, smoking is a way to cope with stress, and the nature of the job and the long hours worked certainly contributed to the need for this coping mechanism.

I came to view these habits not as the culmination of ignorance to health risks, but rather a coping strategy to work related stresses. The Zola article described the over medicalization of conditions in society deemed pathological (Zola, 1976).  While I do not deny the biological basis for conditions such as obesity, the over medicalization of obesity puts the fault on the individual and overlooks the underlying societal factors in one’s environment that contribute to these health conditions.

I came to view these habits not as the culmination of ignorance to health risks, but rather a coping strategy to work related stresses.

In this work environment I saw how my coworkers experienced stress, a lack of sleep and a lack of time and ability to care for their physical needs due to their financial need to work overtime. Society would first question an obese person’s eating habits, rather than how lack of sleep (Beccuti et al., 2011) and stress (Van der Valk et al., 2018) can contribute to one’s experience of obesity. 

The summer I was able to experience firsthand how systemic factors contribute to people’s health and bolster the effects of internal racism and over medicalization. To me, improving long term care conditions for both providers and residents, and solving the cycle of internal racism is multifaceted. The combination of lack of funding and coverage from Medicaid and Medicare (respectively), the lack of enforced legal restrictions on how many residents an aide can provide for at a time, and the lack of coverage for a high proportion of black women working in healthcare (Dickman et al. 2017) are all systemic factors that contribute to the health of black women in healthcare.

Works Cited 

Beccuti, G. and Pannain, S. (2011). Sleep and Obesity. National Center for Biotechnology 


Desmond M. and Emirbayer M. (2009). What is Racial Domination? 

Dickman, S., Himmelstein, D., Woolhandler, S. (2017). Inequality and health-care systems in the USA.  The Lancet.

Reichert, J. and Zaman, F. (2013). Remote Area Medical. IMDb.

Tikkanen, R., Osborn, R., Mossialos, E., Djordjevic, A., Wharton, G. (2020). International Health Care System Profiles: United States. The Commonwealth Fund

Van der Valk, E., Savas, M., van Rossum, E., (2018). Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals? National Center for Biotechnology.,to%20abdominal%20obesity%20%5B4%5D

Zola, I., (1976). Medicine as an Institution of Social Control.

The Intersectionality of Privilege

I think that privilege can be one of the most difficult things to explain to someone who either a) doesn’t understand it, b) has it, or c) fails to acknowledge that it exists. Often when I hear the word privilege, like many people, I usually assume that the context around it is from a racial standpoint. However, privilege exists in so many different dimensions. Privilege exists not only racially, but also based on gender, ability, socioeconomic status, age, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, education level, and most associated with this class–health

Source: UK Research Integrity Office

Understanding different forms of privilege is important to understanding how systems of inequality are perpetuated because privilege is one of the key mechanisms that perpetuates these systems. When certain individuals or groups have privilege based on certain identities that they possess, they have greater access to opportunities and resources that others (without those identities) do not. For example, studies have shown that prospective job employees with more ethnic-sounding names face hiring discrimination in comparison with their competitors with white-sounding names. This kind of discrimination leads to unequal variations in status, opportunity, and resources–that end up being key factors in the perpetuation of systemic inequality. However, learning about these inequalities and addressing them can help dismantle them to create a more equitable, just society.

Many of the inequalities that we have discussed in this class highlight an underlying trend of individuals with privilege–or lack thereof, and how this affects their lives. In the first week of class, we discussed the many pros and cons of the American healthcare system using readings from The Commonwealth Fund. Although there are pros–such as advanced care, technological innovation, and vast research–there are also many cons in the system that have detrimental effects to those that may not have some of the privileges that I listed above. Some of these cons include, but are not limited to, expensive costs of care, uneven investment in resources, lack of access, corruption, and disparities affecting marginalized groups. 

Source: Unsplash

The film that we watched in class, Remote Area Medical, was a powerful visualization of what some of the healthcare inequalities look like in this country. The film followed the nonprofit group that stages free clinics in Bristol, Tennessee that lacks access to basic health care. The film explained that Bristol has a bad drug problem and many of its citizens have done/do drugs, leading to various conditions such as lung cancer, bronchitis, lung disease. Many of the people living in Bristol are also blue collar workers that have no jobs or have low paying jobs with no insurance coverage.

Source: National Institute for Healthcare Management

I think one of the biggest eye-opening moments for me from the film really was the way that privilege, in many different areas, was displayed. Because so many people in rural areas like Bristol do not have the resources or education to obtain college degrees, they are often forced to work in jobs with dangerous health implications such as jobs in the painting industry, automotive industry, and mining industry. Many of these jobs do not have medical benefits, which highlights one of the flaws in the American healthcare system, that there is no universal coverage.“Compared with the insured, uninsured individuals have a higher prevalence of chronic medical illness, greater physical morbidity, and higher mortality” (Washington, 2001). This would be an example of individuals lacking privilege from a socioeconomic standpoint that then affects their lives in other areas, such as health and education. While all of the patients in the film were white and do obtain privilege in their lives from their whiteness, and some may have privilege as it pertains to their physical ability or sexual orientation, they are all disadvantaged socioeconomically in one way or another. This demonstrates a key idea around privilege–that it is not one-dimensional. 

For example, a white woman in America can experience sexism and not racism, while a Black woman can experience both. The white patients that were being treated in the film were disadvantaged academically and economically, but they were not discriminated against based on their race.

The socioeconomic statuses of the patients being treated by RAM significantly impacted their way of life and their access to quality medical care. Bristol, TN is over 90% white, so this racial makeup makes sense, however I could not help but wonder how the availability and accessibility of this free medical care could be different if Bristol was 90% Black. Would the clinic even exist? Would RAM try to make sure that the physicians that were volunteering represented the demographics of the people that they were serving? Would there have been racial bias within the diagnosis and treatment of certain conditions that are often racialized?

Understanding the intersectionality of privilege is critically important because it helps us to conceptualize that individual experiences that people have are constantly being shaped by their numerous identities, whether that be based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or ability. These compounding identities intersect with one another that can either exacerbate or mitigate one’s privilege or lack thereof.


Blacksher, E. White Privilege, White Poverty: Reckoning with Class and Race in America. Moral and Social Challenges of Civic Learning. 25 February 2021.

University Libraries at Rider University. Privilege and Intersectionality.

United States Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau. 2022.

Bridges, K. Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Healthcare. American Bar Association. 2023.

UK Research Integrity Office. Academic Wheel of Privilege. 2023.

Washington, D. Charting the path from lack of insurance to poor health outcomes. West J Med. July 2001.,it%20has%20significant%20health%20consequences.&text=Compared%20with%20the%20insured%2C%20uninsured,physical%20morbidity%2C%20and%20higher%20mortality.

Day, J. Rates of Uninsured Fall in Rural Counties, Remain Higher Than Urban Counties. United States Census Bureau. 9 April 2019.

Roberts, N. Urbanization Leaves Rural America In A Health Care Crisis. Forbes. 25 October 2019.

Carlsson, M. Is It Your Foreign Name or Foreign Qualifications? An Experimental Study of Ethnic Discrimination in Hiring. ECONSTOR. November 2008.

Costs of Confusion: When What You Don’t Know Definitely Hurts

Monopoly on Knowledge

If I gave you two minutes to explain the basic details of your health insurance plan, could you do it? If not, you are far from alone. A recent survey has concluded that a majority of Americans feel “hopelessly confused” by health insurance (Bend, 2021). Coupled with the fact that Americans spend more on healthcare than any other country in the world while producing outcomes that are far from the best, the current state of affairs is aptly summarized as rife with market failures (Tikkanen, et al 2020). Wherefore art thou invisible hand?

Source: Adapted from T. Rice, et al., “United States of America: Health System Review,” Health Systems in Transition, vol. 15, no. 3, 2013, p. 27.

Imagine I was something akin to Billy on the Street, and I brought with me a large poster of the image to the right. How likely is it that an interviewee would be able to provide a brief summary of our healthcare system? Even if I were incentivized with a $1, I may consider it not to be worth the mental effort. Overly complicated systems engender feelings of helplessness, and you don’t have to look far for another example. The US tax code has become so complicated that an entire industry has arisen to profit from the average American’s lack of understanding.

The healthcare industry naturally profits from consumer naïveté. A study from the American Economic Association suggests nearly 9 out of 10 Americans purchase the wrong prescription drug coverage plan for their needs, costing them 30% more than the ideal plan on average (Abaluck & Gruber, 2016). It begs the question, who is responsible for educating Americans on navigating our healthcare system? By the time Americans need to purchase health insurance for the first time, they are likely 26 years old. Many years removed from the education system, we are relying on Americans to figure it out for themselves, and it clearly isn’t working.

“Because people are so bad at choosing plans, the market often sends weird signals to insurance companies, encouraging them to offer more of the wrong plans instead of the right ones.”

Margot Sanger-Katz, “It’s Not Just You: Picking a Health Insurance Plan is Really Hard”
Inexplicable Inconsistencies

This past fall break, I road tripped to a close friend’s house outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. As usual, I forgot to pack an item, but unfortunately this time it was my thyroid medication—something I am supposed to take daily. Luckily, I was able to have the prescription filled at a Costco in Charlotte, where I was only charged $7. This was in stark contrast to the $27 I typically pay at the Costco in Mishawaka, Indiana. In the American health system, this isn’t remotely unusual! The varying costs of identical surgical procedures from hospital to hospital and city to city are well documented (Rosenthal, 2013).

Yet again, a lack of transparency and awareness leads to wasteful spending. In an ideal market, consumers and competitors would take advantage of mispricings and force the most efficient outcome. In a country that prides itself on free market capitalism, how is this allowed to persist? I believe two central issues perpetuate this broken system.

The first is the influence of the healthcare industry on regulation via political lobbying. Three of the top five largest political donors this past year were the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Hospital Association, and Blue Cross Blue Shield—all donating in excess of $25 million (OpenSecrets, 2023). Uneven pricing allows some to inflate their margins. The desire to protect their profits is a rational, self-interested act.

The second is once again a lack of knowledge on behalf of the consumer. Once more, if you asked random individuals on the street to estimate the price of a common medical procedure, more likely than not you would get wildly different responses. Ask the same people the price of a gallon of milk and nearly every answer would be between $2-$4, depending on location. This is by no means the fault of the everyday American. Even at the same hospital with the same doctor, individuals may have wildly different out-of-pocket costs depending on their insurance plan. It is, however, a failure of broader American society.

A Simple Step Towards Better Healthcare

“There is rarely a single, immediate remedy […] Success would be incremental.”

Dr. Elizabeth Loder, The Heroism of Incremental Care

Much of the debate in U.S. politics over the healthcare industry surrounds controversial topics. Deadlock prevents radical change, and thus leaves us stuck with the issues of the present. In our obsessive debate over universal coverage or the sustainability of current public health programs, we forget about the uncontroversial. One of the few matters in existence not to exhibit diminishing marginal returns is that of useful knowledge. It is not controversial to suggest that Americans should have a better grasp of our healthcare system. The government has a long-held desire for an educated populace. More quickly than we can cut through red tape, more quickly than we can restrain the influence of lobbyists, more quickly than we can reign in pharmaceutical drug costs, politicians can help the everyday American by enacting programs that will help them to navigate the costs of care. The citizenry so often criticize the wasteful spending of government; how ironic it is that government now has the opportunity to eliminate the wasteful spending of its citizenry. Unsurprisingly, education can make our country stronger.


Abaluck, J., & Gruber, J. (2016, August 8). Evolving Choice Inconsistencies in Choice of Prescription Drug Insurance. American Economic Review. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from 

Bend. (2021, February 3). More than Half of Americans Confused by Health Insurance, including HSAs. Bend News. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from  

OpenSecrets. (2023). Top Spenders. OpenSecrets: Following the Money in Politics. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from 

Rosenthal, E. (2013, June 1). The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill. The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from 

Sanger-Katz, M. (2020, December 11). It’s Not Just You: Picking a Health Insurance Plan is Really Hard. The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from 

Tikkanen, R., Osborn, R., Mossialos, E., Djordjevic, A., & Wharton, G. (2020, June 5). United States. International Healthcare System Profiles . Retrieved February 20, 2023, from 

The Medicalization of Motherhood

Mae Czerwiec

I’ve heard the story of my birth hundreds of times. I think it’s a source of great pride for my mother. I was born a week after my due date in a large hospital close to home, but my mother certainly didn’t have the typical hospital experience. She still keeps in touch with her treasured midwife through Facebook, and cheerfully recalls the squats she did in her hospital room– she did not have an epidural, was never sedated or hooked up to any machines, and was allowed to walk around up until the time when she gave birth to me (without surgical intervention) at 9:03 pm on November 30, 2001. I was of average size and weight and healthy, spending no time in the NICU. Though I still have no desire to ever give birth myself, I’ve always thought of my mother’s story as charming, celebratory, and full of agency and support.


So it was jarring to come to find out that my mother’s story is not the typical one. Though one survey of mothers in California found that 74% of them were against interventions in childbirth unless medically necessary, only 5% of that same group reported giving birth with no major medical intervention (California Health Care Foundation 2018). Most of these women were immobilized (61%) or had an epidural (68%) (California Health Care Foundation 2018), which is a far cry from my mother’s robust lower-body workout. Furthermore, 31% of these women had a C-section (California Health Care Foundation 2018), despite the fact that the World Health Organization recommends that all of its member nations avoid Cesarean section rates in excess of 10-15% (WHO 2015). In the context of what we know of the many issues with US healthcare, I was surprised to find that high rates of C-section alone are not a uniquely American problem. In the past 20 years, C-section rates in Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom have all been around 20%, Spain has seen a C-section rate of 26.4% in Catalonia alone, and in Brazil, the C-section rate has been nearly 36% (Johanson et al. 2002).

“…when caesarean section rates rise towards 10% across a population, the number of maternal and newborn deaths decreases. When the rate goes above 10%, there is no evidence that mortality rates improve.”

World Health Organization, 2015

Of course in countries with high infant mortality rates, it would be beneficial for more women to have access to obstetric care; however, the consensus of many recent studies seems to be that medical intervention in the case of low-risk pregnancies is unnecessary, and has the potential to do more harm than good. For example, C-sections have been shown to have a global impact on maternal mortality and morbidity (Phelan and O’Connell 2015). I can’t help but wonder how much of this problem is tied to our view of women’s bodies as factories for reproduction, in desperate need of oversight and regulation, and a still-widespread societal belief that women are somehow incapable of making their own choices. Even my mother, a staunch Catholic who opposes the pro-choice movement for abortion access, has to admit that she was privileged enough to enjoy more choice than most mothers in her birth experience.


And certainly the medicalization of motherhood doesn’t stop once a child has left the womb. I think of my mother’s best friend, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Chicago, who has recently begun a side business as a lactation consultant. This role allows her to extend her practice to the task of assisting mothers with their concerns related to breastfeeding. In the 20th century, when infant formula was introduced by drug companies, breastfeeding came to be seen (like other issues of female reproduction, such as menstruation) as an arena of female inadequacy: that mothers were incapable of producing enough breast milk to satisfy the nutritional needs of their growing children. Even today, writes author Jennifer Torres, “breastfeeding continues to be constructed as likely to fail, and therefore, in need of medical management” (Torres 2014). Breastfeeding is also a complex issue for reproductive healthcare and women’s bodily autonomy, since women have at different points in history faced both glorification and demonization for their choice to either breastfeed or not breastfeed.

“breastfeeding continues to be constructed as likely to fail, and therefore, in need of medical management”

Jennifer Torres, 2014

Disturbingly, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the ways in which we medicalize motherhood. Societally, of course, we have a problem of parent-shaming, pitting the parenting style that works for one family against the perceived failure of another parent’s style, both in private and public spheres. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m currently watching the tv series “The Parent Test” on Hulu, where twelve sets of parents are presented as exemplars of their particular parenting “styles” and then put through “challenges” with their children and families to effectively determine which style does the best job of raising well-adjusted children. But aside from sensationalizing or merely judging other parents, we as a society have also medicalized parenthood. In one article, author Ara Francis writes that “Parenting, especially mothering, has become an anxious endeavor, characterized by pervasive self-doubt and guilt” (Francis 2012). Francis’s paper concludes that parents, especially mothers, are subject to increased negative labeling when their children have “invisible disabilities”, such as learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, mental health problems, drug addiction, or other medical problems, and she posits that this negative stigmatization is a direct result of the medicalization of childhood (Francis 2012). The particular burden on mothers is consistent with the theme present in the issues of both childbirth and breastfeeding: that women and their bodies are perceived in terms of deficiency.

“Parenting, especially mothering, has become an anxious endeavor, characterized by pervasive self-doubt and guilt”

Ara Francis, 2012

So where do we go for solutions? How can we ensure that more women’s experience of motherhood is autonomous and affirming? In terms of childbirth, authors Phelan and O’Connell present midwifery as a promising solution to combat medicalization, but still encourage collaboration between obstetric and midwife teams (Phelan and O’Connell 2015). In Torres’s article on breastfeeding, she emphasizes the role lactation consultants can play in the de-medicalization of breastfeeding, using these providers to examine the concept she describes as “medicalizing to demedicalize” (Torres 2014). And in Francis’s article on stigmatization and “anxious parenting”, she describes parental stigma as a “relational phenomenon” that thrives on the intersection of dominant cultural assumptions and institutions of medical authority (Francis 2012). Taken together, these three authors come to the conclusion that both incremental change and widespread cultural overhaul may be necessary to combat the medicalization of motherhood: we have a lot of work to do before my mother’s story seems mainstream.

In summary,

Solutions for the Medicalization of Motherhood
1. Interdisciplinary Teams of Providers
2. “Medicalizing to Demedicalize”
3. Challenging Cultural Assumptions

California Health Care Foundation. 2018. “Infographic: The Overmedicalization of Childbirth.” From Listening to Mothers in California survey.

Francis, Ara. 2012. “Stigma in an era of medicalisation and anxious parenting: how proximity and culpability shape middle class parents’ experiences of disgrace.” Sociology of Health and Illness 34, no. 6 (July 2012): 927-942.

Johanson, Richard, Mary Newburn, and Alison Macfarlane. “Has the medicalization of childbirth gone too far?” BMJ (Clinical Research ed.) 324, no. 7342 (April 2002): 892-895.

Phelan, Agnes and Rhona O’Connell. 2015. “Childbirth: Myths and Medicalization.”

Torres, Jennifer M.C. 2014. “Medicalizing to demedicalize: lactation consultants and the (de)medicalization of breastfeeding.” Social Science and Medicine 100 (January 2014): 159-166.

World Health Organization. 2015. “WHO statement of cesarean section rates.” World Health Organization. April 14, 2015.

Limits to Motherhood: Overmedicalization within Pregnancy and Childbirth

The term medicalization is not shy in the healthcare field, as its overuse has come to dominate aspects of women’s daily lives, such as pregnancy and childbirth. Overmedicalization, or excessive medical treatment during pregnancy and childbirth continues to be used as a tool to make women lose control over their bodies. Examining the medical model of motherhood, many argue that women have the right to make informed medical decisions when considering their bodies. However, the idea that women possess the capacity to have a choice in their own medical decisions is a false reality as we disregard them as these passive recipients in healthcare. This form of neglect toward the identity and anatomy of women’s bodies not only alters and interferes with the previously considered natural experience of pregnancy and childbirth, but also implicates women’s view of their own bodies, and their roles as mothers[3].

Women: The Passive Recipients of Healthcare

While medicalization has transformed the once natural process of childbirth and pregnancy into a medical event, this has led to the loss of control and agency for women. Overmedicalization can also reinforce traditional gender roles by positioning women as passive recipients of medical care rather than active participants in their own health and well-being. It can lead to a lack of trust between the patient and their healthcare provider, as the provider may be seen as the expert, and the patient may feel powerless to make decisions for themselves. This issue can result in a lack of informed consent and autonomy in decision-making as we brush aside women’s feelings and have others decide for them[1].

The medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth can also lead to a decreased sense of control and autonomy for women during their pregnancy and childbirth. Women may feel pressured to comply with medical recommendations rather than make their own informed decisions[2]. For instance, a woman may be told by her doctor that she needs to have a cesarean section for reasons she does not fully understand and may feel like she has no other option but to comply with the recommendation[1]. This may lead to feelings of anxiety, trauma, helplessness, and a sense of disconnection from the process before and after giving birth.

Reproduction as a Social Control 

Has the overmedicalization of pregnancy and childbirth become a social control?

“The most powerful emperical stimulus for this realization of how much everyone has or believes he has something organically wrong with him, or more positively put, how much can be done to make one feel, look, or function better[4].”

Irving Kenneth Zola in Medicine as an Institution of Social Control

Overmedicalizing pregnancy and childbirth has become a social control as there is an expectation that women are to conform to medical norms and standards. Rather than being allowed to make their own choices about bodies, the reliance on medical professionals to make decisions about their bodies continues to perpetuate a form social control over women[3].

In general, medicalization has become a tool used to exert social control over women’s bodies during both pregnancy and childbirth as it goes way beyond what is necessary to treat or prevent illness. Pregnancy for example has been medicalized to an unnecessary degree, with routine procedures and interventions that may not be necessary for all women. Prenatal care has become increasingly routine, with frequent ultrasounds, blood tests, and other procedures that can be expensive and time-consuming[4]. More specifically, the routine use of fetal monitors during labor. Fetal monitors were introduced in the 1970s to detect and prevent fetal distress, but they have become a routine part of the labor process, even for women who are not at high risk[4]. Moreover, fetal monitors have not been shown to improve the outcomes for low-risk pregnancies. Alongside many others, fetal monitors fall under the category of unnecessary procedures performed that may potentially lead to risks and complications for both mother and baby[3].

Increase in Medical Interventions

According to the Listening to Mothers in California survey, 74% of California mothers agreed that childbirth should not be interfered with unless medically necessary, but only 5% gave birth with no major medical intervention.[1]

Listening to Mothers in California, “Infographic: The Overmedicalization of Childbirth.”

While statistically speaking, according to Listening to Mothers in California, 74%, or rather the majority of expecting mothers preferred to have an absence of any interference during childbirth[1]. Yet, only 5% gave birth without any medical interferences – what are possible factors that contribute to these drastic statistics, and what are the alternatives[1]?

Pregnancy and childbirth are natural experiences, but overmedicalization can make them seem like medical conditions that require constant monitoring and intervention[2]. Medical interventions during pregnancy and childbirth are often driven by the desire for control and profit rather than medical necessity. These interventions can increase the risk of complications and interfere with the natural birthing process, which can be traumatizing for the mother and the baby. Induction is perhaps considered an intervention, often used to prevent complications. Epidurals and cesarean sections are other procedures increasingly used that are not always necessary[2]. Using an episiotomy, a surgical incision made in the perineum during childbirth to widen the vaginal opening is another medical procedure that isn’t always necessary. The routine use of episiotomies has been debunked as unnecessary by research, yet the procedure is still performed routinely in many hospitals[2].  

While medical interventions are necessary in some cases, there are alternatives to the overuse of medical technologies for pregnancy and childbirth. One alternative is the use of midwifery care, which emphasizes a holistic, patient-centered approach to pregnancy and childbirth. Midwifery care has been shown to be associated with improved maternal and infant health outcomes, as well as higher rates of patient satisfaction[5]. Education is also an important alternative to medicalization. Women who are well-informed about the risks and benefits of medical interventions are more likely to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Education can also help to reduce fear and anxiety about pregnancy and childbirth, which can lead to a more positive experience overall.

Looking at the Bigger Picture 

Like many young women, I have grown up watching movies, reading stories, seeing social media posts and television ads that feature the joys and beautiful moments of pregnancy and childbirth.  The messages are usually very uplifting and focuses on the emotional part of reproduction.  However, there is another side of pregnancy and childbirth that is rarely discussed or featured in news articles on overmedicalization, and other limitations within the health system for women during childbirth.  While I have not experienced childbirth, and hope to have a family in the future, I am much more aware of potential limitations and challenges that I may face when I navigate my own pregnancy or childbirth.  Growing up, I was taught to fight for personal choices and value my ability to make my own health care decisions. It is imperative that all women choosing to bear children and enter motherhood have the ability to navigate their own health care options.  While society tends to highlight the joys of pregnancy, there needs to be more open discussions on the limitations, potential interventions and overmedicalization of childbirth so women can make informed decisions about their own health care.

It is important to recognize that the phenomenon of overmedicalization is not limited to pregnancy and childbirth. Overmedicalization can also occur in other areas of healthcare, such as the management of menopause or the treatment of mental health disorders[5]. Overmedicalization of women’s pregnancy and childbirth can have significant consequences for both the mother and the child. It is essential to balance medical interventions with respect for women’s autonomy and agency in making informed decisions about their bodies and health. On the one hand, medicalization can lead to an increased understanding of the medical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as increased safety and access to care. On the other hand, it can lead to a lack of autonomy and respect for traditional birthing practices, as well as increased risks and complications[2]. It is essential for healthcare providers to be aware of these impacts and to ensure that women are informed and empowered throughout the birthing process.


[1]“Infographic: The Overmedicalization of Childbirth.” California Health Care Foundation, August 21, 2019. 

[2]Martin, Emily. “Medical Metaphors of Women’s Bodies: Menstruation and Menopause – JSTOR.” Accessed February 20, 2023. 

[3]“Medicalization, Social Control, and the Relief of Suffering.” Accessed February 20, 2023. 

[4]“Medicine as an Institution of Social Control – Irving Kenneth Zola, 1972.” Accessed February 20, 2023. 

[5]“Women Have Been Misled about Menopause.” NYT inEducation. Accessed February 20, 2023.