Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 110–116 | Cite as

Physician Knowledge of Human Genetic Variation, Beliefs About Race and Genetics, and Use of Race in Clinical Decision-making

  • Sherrill L. SellersEmail author
  • Brooke A. Cunningham
  • Vence L. Bonham



Race in the USA has an enduring connection to health and well-being. It is often used as a proxy for ancestry and genetic variation, although self-identified race does not establish genetic risk of disease for an individual patient. How physicians reconcile these seemingly paradoxical facts as they make clinical decisions is unknown.


To examine physicians’ genetic knowledge and beliefs about race with their use of race in clinical decision-making


Cross-sectional survey of a national sample of clinically active general internists


Seven hundred eighty-seven physicians completed the survey. Regression models indicate that genetic knowledge was not significantly associated with use of race. However, physicians who agreed with notions of race as a biological phenomenon and those who agreed that race has clinical importance were more likely to report using race in their decision-making.


Genomic and precision medicine holds considerable promise for narrowing the gap in health among racial groups in the USA. For this promise to be realized, our findings suggest that future research and education efforts related to race, genomics, and health must go beyond educating health care providers about common genetic conditions to delving into assumptions about race and genetics.


Race Genetics Clinical decision-making Physicians 



We thank Dr. Lisa Cooper for her assistance with earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Education, Health & SocietyMiami UniversityOxfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family Medicine and Community HealthUniversity of Minnesota Medical SchoolMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Social and Behavioral Research Branch, National Human Genome Research InstituteNational Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA

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