3 ways to help doctors and staff deal with racist patients

(Image: Getty/Jupiter Images)
Healthcare organizations are taking steps to help doctors and staff when faced with discrimination from patients. (Getty/Jupiter Images)

J. Corey Williams, M.D., a resident physician at Yale University Department of Psychiatry, won’t soon forget the call he got from a nurse about a patient who was being loud, belligerent and disruptive.

The petite elderly Caucasian patient at the center of the disruption took one look at him and said, ‘I don’t want no n****r doctor,” Williams recalled in an opinion piece for The Hill.

And Lachelle Dawn Weeks, M.D., a resident in internal resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, recalls the elderly white woman who insulted her with the advice to not “waste her affirmative action,” in an opinion piece on STAT.


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Physicians who are cultural and religious minorities can face the burden of discrimination. However, “particularly at a time when some Americans feel emboldened to speak and act in bigoted ways, clinicians need support managing patients who make derogatory and abusive remarks,” Weeks writes.

RELATED: Doctor asks: What’s the cure for a hateful patient?

Healthcare organizations can take actions to address the problem, she says. Here are a few:

Establish a committee on social medicine, multicultural affairs or diversity and inclusion. Weeks is chair of the social justice committee at Brigham and Women’s. Often led by minority physicians and students, these groups have integrated cultural awareness and sensitivity training into medical education.

End the silence. Train physicians and other providers how to talk to patients about their biases so they do not stay silent when faced with racism, religious discrimination and other forms of bigotry. Other doctors, when they witness discrimination, can act to intercede on their colleague’s behalf. Hospitals can also establish support networks so minority providers can discuss moments in training and practice where they have faced discrimination.

Take a stand against cultural and religious discrimination. Hospital administrators can publicly refuse to cater to culturally biased demands and make it known they will not tolerate derogatory comments toward physicians and staff as part of patient nondiscrimination policies, Weeks says.

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