White Privilege in a White Coat: How Racism Shaped my Medical Education

www.annfammed.org | 5/22/2017 | Staff
jolan (Posted by) Level 3
In this essay, I reflect on some of the ways racial privilege influenced my experience as a white physician in training. While white Americans often think of “racism” as a social construct primarily affecting people of color, “racism” is a system of both racial disadvantage as well as reciprocal racial advantage. Medical professionals are increasingly aware of how social determinants of health lead to important health disparities, however white physicians seldom ask how their own racial privilege reinforces a white supremacist culture and what effects this may have on our patients’ health. Drawing attention to the powerful legacy of racial discrimination in medical institutions, I call on other white physicians to name their privilege in order to dismantle the systems that propagate racism in our profession.

Key Words:

Man - Teens - Twenties - American - Baltimore

He was a young man in his late teens or early twenties, African American, and no longer alive. He entered the Baltimore hospital on a stretcher with multiple gunshot wounds piercing his torso and head with paramedics compressing his chest while pushing oxygen into his lungs. Within minutes of arrival, it was clear that further attempts at resuscitation were futile.

In the suddenly quiet moments following the pronouncement of death, the medical staff busied their restless hands cleaning the trauma bay and arranging the body for family members to pay their respects. Hastily torn sterile wrappers were brushed aside, torn and bloody clothing was removed, and a semblance of order was recreated in preparation for a suddenly grieving family.

Staff - Member - Cell - Phone - Patient

One hospital staff member removed a cell phone from the patient’s pocket and then removed a second phone from the same pocket. A medical resident, wearing three pagers and two phones as part of his responsibilities on a busy night in the hospital, joked, “Maybe he was on call.”

Another resident corrected him, “No, I’ve seen The Wire,...
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