Why Race and Ethnicity Are Not Like Other Risk Factors

Applying Structural Competency and Epistemic Humility in the Covid-19 Pandemic


  • Sean A. Valles Center for Bioethics and Social Justice, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University




COVID-19, racial disparities, epistemic humility, structural competency, racism, population health


Since early in the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been wide disparities observed between different US racial groups’ rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths. This challenges physicians and patients to untangle what these race-associated risks mean for an individual patient. I argue that this task of providing individualized risk advice requires physicians to apply two skills: structural competency (an understanding of how societal features affect health, since race-associated risks are the result of social conditions, not innate biological differences) and epistemic humility (being mindful of the limitations of individual knowledge and a habit of working collaboratively to get the knowledge that is needed).


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How to Cite

Valles, S. A. (2021). Why Race and Ethnicity Are Not Like Other Risk Factors: Applying Structural Competency and Epistemic Humility in the Covid-19 Pandemic. Philosophy of Medicine, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.5195/pom.2021.52



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