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Diagnosing and Treating Systemic Racism

July 17, 2020

Written by Clay Smith

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There are practical steps we can take to root out and counter the effects of racism in medicine. Here are several.

Why does this matter?
Sadly, we may think of ourselves as superior to others. This is the root of racism – thinking I am superior to someone else on the basis of race. It really makes no sense. This tendency is insidious and lives inside of us all. The effect of our inexplicable superiority complex, in this case leading to racism, harms our patients. What can we do to help counter this in medicine?

Racism – how to move forward

  1. We recommit ourselves to the quiet work of doctoring and building trust with individual patients.

  2. We become more conscious of our biases when caring for minority patients.

  3. We seriously consider how social determinants of health (income, housing, resources, employment, access to healthcare, educational opportunities, literacy, and more) are impacting our patients and what we can do to mitigate these effects.

  4. We acknowledge past injustices and do what we can to make sure we are addressing them in the present.

  5. We listen and learn and openly discuss racism and systematically incorporate this into our medical training.

  6. We strive for a system that ensures healthcare for everyone.

  7. We think deeply and ruthlessly about the destructive tendency in our own hearts to consider ourselves as superior to others. I add this last observation as a personal one, not from the editorial. We can’t accomplish goals 1 through 6 above if we secretly harbor thoughts that we are superior to others. We won’t build trust. We won’t see our biases. We won’t care about others’ struggles. We won’t acknowledge wrong. We won’t listen and be teachable. We won’t work to help others. We are all people, made in the image of God, equally and inherently valuable and worthy. Embracing this truth destroys superiority and will help us win the battle against racism.

Diagnosing and Treating Systemic Racism. N Engl J Med. 2020 Jun 10. doi: 10.1056/NEJMe2021693. [Epub ahead of print] 

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