Racism still a problem in healthcare, but hospitals and doctors no longer ignore it

Female nurse looking stressed
Hospitals are no longer ignoring discrimination against doctors and other staff. (Getty/gpointstudio)

Five years ago, when Ashira Blazer, M.D., worked as a resident, a patient who had come into the emergency room with a heart attack asked her to read from his chart to prove that she was literate.

Blazer, now a rheumatologist and instructor of medicine at NYU Langone, told the Wall Street Journal that the patient thought black people couldn’t read.

Individual doctors have long had to deal with discrimination because of race or ethnicity. They have encountered patients who do not believe they are physicians, have walked away from treatment or requested another provider.

One survey found 59% of doctors said they confront bias from patients. Indeed, patient requests for a doctor of a different race or ethnicity is “one of medicine’s open secrets,” Kimani Paul-Emile, an associate professor at Fordham University School of Law, told the newspaper.

But now hospitals have reshaped policies to protect the rights of doctors and other employees while providing care to patients, according to the Journal report.

For instance, The Journal noted that Penn State College of Medicine has added language to its patient rights policy last year that says it will not honor patient requests for providers based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. And the University of Chicago Medicine is creating a simulation program to help train medical professions on how to respond to patients who discriminate. 

More medical schools may also want to incorporate appropriate responses to discrimination in their curriculum as suggested in a 2016 study from Stanford University School of Medicine. Researchers outlined four steps residents and physicians can take when confronted by a racist patient or family member, FierceHealthcare previously reported

The study recommended physicians assess the illness of the patient, develop a rapport with the patient and family, depersonalize the event and maintain a safe learning environment.