An essay written by Marjory Charlot, MD, MPH, MSc, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, recounts a recent experience with racism directed towards her from a patient on the inpatient oncology service. The incident occurred during morning rounds while she was supervising two medical interns.
Charlot writes how she was “caught off guard” when her white elderly patient, with his daughter and wife at his bedside, asked her to hold her hands up against his because “blacks have longer fingers.” She describes the silence in the patient’s room as palpable, and her emotions in that moment spun in all directions from the shock of this patient’s unexpected, derogatory and racially charged statement.
“His focus on my skin color and physical features as opposed to my medical knowledge and expertise was revolting and an insult to my identity as a physician. To get on with the task at hand of reviewing the patient’s overall status, I decided to ignore his comment, gently held his hands, and addressed the remaining questions his family had regarding his condition and hospital course.”
Charlot goes on to recount how she processed the incident and approached a necessary discussion with her trainees, accepting the discomfort of her vulnerability, and with more reflection, recognized an important need to educate trainees and all providers on how to address interpersonal racism in the workplace, particularly when these interactions occur during medical encounters.
“We don’t typically get this type of training in medical school or beyond,” said Charlot, who is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of oncology. “We need to have open discussions about the discriminatory experiences faced by those who are underrepresented in medicine, and need to develop communication skills that can include role playing to address these issues when they occur. I believe this type of training should be a part of the medical school curriculum with continued reinforcement during residency and fellowship training programs.”
Charlot is also working to normalize conversations about diversity, serving as a diversity champion on the Department of Medicine’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.
“I want to change the narrative on what diversity means and when it should be addressed. I don’t want my effort or the efforts of those who serve as diversity champions to only be recognized when a particular incident occurs in the hospital or when these atrocities occur in our society at large. Instead I hope that diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging becomes an essential component of medical training and in healthcare more broadly.”
Read Charlot’s essay here.