Healthcare Systems Are Failing People Of Colour...Here's How
Unfortunately, the fact is that we're stuck with it - even after decades of endurance and tolerance it’s something that is deeply rooted into systems and institutions. One of the most affected being the healthcare system.
The Black Lives Matter movement has spread across the globe. Racial injustices that were swept under the carpet are being uncovered, and personally, I’ve been horrified by what we've all seen.
In four years' time I am (hopefully!) graduating to be a doctor. Throughout the healthcare field - from doctors and nurses to paramedics - when it comes to racial bias - there are no doubts about how to act: all patients must be treated equally regardless. Full stop. End of it.
But of course we all know that’s not really how it goes...
The people that are meant to treat and heal people can actually act unethically based on the colour of their patients' skin...some without even realising. Any profession within the NHS is considered to be noble; with virtues embedded in morales and ethics...so can it really be institutionally racist? The short answer: Yes.
This isn’t just coming from me...studies have shown that Black Women are FIVE times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Why is this happening you ask?
An investigation into how white medical trainees perceive Black people’s pain discovered that half of them believed that Black people have inherently thicker skin.
Therefore their pain is under-treated in comparison to white people's pain. This is very disturbing and outright worrying. These trainees will eventually become doctors...without the appropriate education those same people who trust them to help could be exposed to harm. Often, treatment can even be withheld on the basis of a false conception.
It’s not just patients that are suffering because of this institutional racism; healthcare staff are too. Every Thursday at 8 o’ clock windows and doors open and claps for our NHS heroes can be heard across the nation. For the people that put their lives at risk everyday to keep us safe and have worked tirelessly to treat COVID-19 patients, some of them not seeing family or friends for weeks in order to protect them.
It was in the midst of this pandemic that we realised it wasn’t the CEOs or celebrities that we worship that saved us - it was our NHS staff. But behind the closed doors of hospitals and clinics, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff became targets of racism. More that 40% of medical staff are BAME - making up a large portion of the healthcare workforce.
However, the experiences of staff members reveal discriminatory behaviour; 58% of BAME healthcare staff report that they have been treated as inferior or less skilled because of their race, and 34% of them refer to racism as a frequent or regular occurence.
It’s actually shocking. But the worst of all is that most of the discrimination they are facing isn’t coming from patients. The majority of it is from their colleagues...other healthcare staff that have a duty to thousands of patients they encounter to see them into better health. If these staff can actively be racist towards their own colleagues, what’s to say they aren’t letting their own prejudices cloud their judgment when seeing patients?
BLM isn’t a trend or a hashtag that we can use and just discard because it isn't trending like it was a few weeks ago. We need to integrate it into our lives, into our conversations...being silent on these topics is essentially being compliant with all the injustice happening. There’s no excuse.
As for healthcare, many medical students across the country are acknowledging the fact that we need more guidance on how to actually diagnose certain conditions with confidence on BAME patients. This is
because we’ve been taught how certain diseases, like Kawasaki disease, present on light fair skin but not on brown skin. For this reason, we could be turning away our patients of colour when in fact they are sick - only till their condition worsens would what is actually wrong be known.
Educating ourselves and others is the first step in tackling racism. Learning about the role that People of Colour have played in healthcare can help us shape our future. To help, I’ve put down some book recommendations that I’ve definitely added to my reading list too. Even if you aren’t interested in healthcare these are still great reads to learn about the history of Black and Brown figures across the globe.
Medical Apartheid - Harriet A. Washington
Discusses history of medical experimentation on Black people - sheds light on the dark chapter of history I definitely don’t remember learning about at school.
Black Man in a White Coat - Dr. Damon Tweedy
Reflections on race and medicine; the challenges of Black doctors and patients in a predominantly white medical world.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
The incredible story of Henrietta Lacks - an African American woman who changed medical research completely but never knew about it. Great read, I highly recommend it.
Mind the Gap - Malone Mukwende
A handbook of clinical signs/symptoms of illness on Black and Brown skin. Created by medical student Malone Mukwende to encourage medical education on darker skinned patients.
Once again I urge everyone...keep learning. Keep trying to better yourself and others. The path to eliminating racism anywhere is to work together to create the change we wish to see.