Doctors Face Racism in Medicine

NOVEMBER 20, 2016
Heidi Moawad, MD
Racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in medicine. Recent reports of African American physicians who were rebuffed trying to provide Good Samaritan medical care outside the medical setting have shined a light on the public perception of minority doctors outside the hospital environment. But, it turns out that doctors and other health care professionals face discrimination within the medical setting too. 
 
There are few studies documenting racism in medicine, and they are almost always focused on racism directed towards patients rather that racism towards doctors. It is difficult to objectively measure a phenomenon such as racism towards physicians. But physicians and other health care professionals who are minorities often face problems that can seriously affect professional advancement and equality. One journal article recounted an incident involving a hospital technician who was rejected by a patient because of her race. The details are similar to the stories shared by numerous physicians and nurses who regularly encounter discrimination because they are African American or because they recently emigrated from another country.
 
Doctors who are ‘different’ face racism, discrimination, and/or prejudice from a variety of groups within the medical setting. While the terms racism, discrimination, and prejudice are not identical, they all carry similar meanings.
 
Racism From Other Physicians 
Often, minority or immigrant doctors are subject to discrimination from other doctors. This may happen when doctors are rude or condescending to those who speak with an accent, don't want to deal with names that are hard to pronounce, are uncomfortable with a way of dressing that is less polished or 'different,' or are truly biased against minorities and immigrants. 
 
On social media, many doctors detail their own personal stories of being 'bullied' and singled out by other doctors, and these incidents can ruin careers. In fact, sometimes minority physicians exclude or discriminate against other minority physicians as a way to attain status or to fit in.
 
Racism From Administrators 
Several harrowing stories of administrators who target minority physicians point to systematic shortcomings. Physicians recount incidents in which administrators scold them or say things like, “that may be what you are used to, but that is not how we do things here”. Often, minority physicians feel that they enter into the work environment as if they are already on ‘probation’ and are subject to performance reviews more frequently or more harshly than their non-minority peers.
 
Racism From Ancillary Staff
Ancillary staff may be more comfortable working with doctors who come from the local community. Often, hospital and clinic staff members need to take care of things based on very brief discussions with doctors to get things done. Sometimes, minority physicians encounter problems with staff members who 'double check’ their orders with other physicians or who avoid working with minority physicians.  
 
Racism From Patients 
Patients hold a great deal of control over a physician's career success, especially now that doctors' hospital privileges and compensation are often linked with patient satisfaction reports. It is well known that unhappy patients are far more likely to submit patient satisfaction surveys than are happy patients. 
 
Patients often avoid doctors who seem like they might be from another country or who do not look like everybody else. Some patients enter the doctor patient relationship with preconceived stereotypes about the educational standards of minority physicians or foreign trained physicians.
 
Medicine is Not Easy for Minorities 
Overall, working in the medical field is not easy for minorities. Given the extensive training and testing that all physicians have to pass in order to demonstrate proficiency, it makes sense for the medial community to address issues that minority physicians endure in order to optimize efficiency and prevent unfair treatment of minority physicians.


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