My Experience with Race Based Medicine at Columbia University

Let me wipe the dust off the account. Yep, we are still here. I’m currently on a journey to become a health provider and how I view the world is changing… changed. I have to reconcile past truths and knowledge while, making room new knowledge that saves people lives. Or, at least that is what is being sold to me, under the guise of my “education”.

“There is nothing wrong with being the first, the problem is being the one and only.” Vivian Hewitt, did not realize the impact that she would have when she shared these words with me.  I am one of the few Black women in my class at Columbia University.  I should be happy, proud, especially that I was accepted into my speciality area.   But, the last nine months have been bittersweet. I am excited, thrilled, sometimes scared by the knowledge and how my clinical recommendations or decisions will help families.  Yet, I am in a system that justifies and uses race based medicine and tells me directly and indirectly that I shouldn’t  always question race and there is value in being color blind.

Why should I consider race? I find that question interesting because, I am not colorblind. I consider race and its larger implications with every patient. We already know chronic conditions  such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus  have higher incidence and prevalence in people of color. We also know that Black people are less likely to get pain medication in clinical settings because of stereotypes (i.e. Black people don’t feel pain, they are drug seeking or it’s just not that bad for them).

Public health frames the way that I view the world and my experiences in the clinical setting. How do I reconcile that bias that impacts patients lives,  does not just lie in the system, it also lies with individuals. Individual clinicians and providers continue to help save lives or take lives based on bias. Bias that is implicit or explicit.  I want to say, I do not think that providers intentionally want to kill or hurt their patients, however,  the evidence is undeniable.  What we are doing, is not working. And, critical teaching and/or teachable moments are in classrooms, hospitals and the places that we live, work and play every day!  If professors, preceptors, and administrators do not receive social justice and cultural competency training what exactly is the path forward? If students, do not challenge those in positions of power, how exactly and when exactly will things change?

Where does that leave us?  For today, I’m on spring break. I’m moving slowly and taking my time to process all the feelings that I have around this. I am a couple of months away from receiving  my white coat. I am not going to wait until I get that coat to speak up. I hope that I can rest, recharge and carry the flame and passion that is needed for this heavy and trying work. I know that as long as Dorothy Roberts,  Dr. Mary Bassett and the FEW administers at my school, that dare to raise their hands and always speak up. I know that I can continue on this path and I will raise my hand and speak up each and every time.

Please feel free to share the times that you rose your hand and when you didn’t. I would love to hear about your experiences in the classroom, research lab or  clinical setting. Thank you.





~ by travelling womanists on March 14, 2016.

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