Racism reared its ugly head recently in the news, when two bloggers were charged with putting up racist remarks on the Internet. I wonder how many doctors have encountered racism in the line of duty. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that racism is a huge problem here, but I think that racial intolerance does exist even in this so-called multicultural, multiracial country. Usually this is subtle but I have come across overt racism against physicians.
I know of instances in which patients request NOT to consult with a certain doctor because of his/her race (and it was NOT even a language problem because the patients spoke English). This happened in a GP setting in a multi-doctor clinic, and I am pretty sure that this has happened in the hospitals & specialist clinics as well. I am not sure how other clinics or hospitals would handle something like this, but at this place, the clinic acceded to the patient’s request. And this was not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, many local organizations are not progressive enough to face up to such behavior, for fear of losing the business of the clients. Basically, they have sold their soul.
From another angle, I was once accused of racism by a patient and that the medical staff was treating him differently because he belonged to a minority race. Now, being accused of racism by a rather inebriated patient in the wee hours of the morning at the Emergency Department wasn’t something I was going to take lying down. I replied civilly but indignantly to this gentleman that it didn’t matter whether he was black, purple, green, yellow, brown or white, he would be treated just the same. He clammed up after that.
What would you do if you encountered either of the situations above? What would your employer or the institution that you work for do? Would you treat your patient any differently because of his racist attitude? As for me, in the first situation of knowing that the patient is racist, I treated the patient’s medical problem, as I would any other. However, I admit that my behaviour towards this person was colder than normal although I did not go as far as giving a lecture to the patient about racial prejudice. I felt that if I had done so, it might have compromised the doctor-patient relationship.
What would you do?