Physicians' anxiety due to uncertainty and use of race in medical decision making

Brooke A. Cunningham, Vence L. Bonham, Sherrill L. Sellers, Hsin Chieh Yeh, Lisa A. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND:: The explicit use of race in medical decision making is contested. Researchers have hypothesized that physicians use race in care when they are uncertain. OBJECTIVES:: The aim of this study was to investigate whether physician anxiety due to uncertainty (ADU) is associated with a higher propensity to use race in medical decision making. RESEARCH DESIGN:: This study included a national cross-sectional survey of general internists. SUBJECTS:: A national sample of 1738 clinically active general internists drawn from the SK&A physician database were included in the study. MEASURES:: ADU is a 5-item measure of emotional reactions to clinical uncertainty. Bonham and Sellers Racial Attributes in Clinical Evaluation (RACE) scale includes 7 items that measure self-reported use of race in medical decision making. We used bivariate regression to test for associations between physician characteristics, ADU, and RACE. Multivariate linear regression was performed to test for associations between ADU and RACE while adjusting for potential confounders. RESULTS:: The mean score on ADU was 19.9 (SD=5.6). Mean score on RACE was 13.5 (SD=5.6). After adjusting for physician demographics, physicians with higher levels of ADU scored higher on RACE (+β=0.08 in RACE, P=0.04, for each 1-point increase in ADU), as did physicians who understood "race" to mean biological or genetic ancestral, rather than sociocultural, group. Physicians who graduated from a US medical school, completed fellowship, and had more white patients scored lower on RACE. CONCLUSIONS:: This study demonstrates positive associations between physicians' ADU, meanings attributed to race, and self-reported use of race in medical decision making. Future research should examine the potential impact of these associations on patient outcomes and health care disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-733
Number of pages6
JournalMedical care
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • medical decision making
  • race and ethnicity
  • uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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