What does it take to go to work feeling devalued because of your race, gender, religion or sexual orientation? I can tell you, it takes a toll, and it changes us a little bit each time we experience these prejudices. I know, because it happens too often and I have seen the effects over time. Let’s stop being bystanders to such behaviours. We need to speak out when we see such bullying.
I thought naively, that in 2017, in Ontario, we had overcome so many of the prejudices of our parent’s generation. After all, Canada prides itself on being the Mosaic of Countries; enriched by our multiculturalism, diversity and exceptional fabric of inclusiveness. This week brought our dirty secret out into the open once more. We were revealed to all the world as the haters we can still be. A mother, seeking care for her ill son, was filmed asking to see a “white doctor who speaks English and doesn’t have brown teeth.” Now, I have seen many instances of patients behaving badly, especially, when they are frightened, anxious, or in pain. We make allowances for minor transgressions of civility in most of these instances, and on a daily basis, I regret to admit. After all, who amongst us hasn’t been pushy or even rude when we are stressed? However, this woman went well beyond these lesser transgressions in her diatribe. She felt it was within her rights to denigrate a physician, because of his race and his appearance. All semblance of polite Canadian values fell by the wayside. The on camera footage stripped bare for us, our collective failings.
How did it come to pass that the colour of a doctor’s skin, his accent or his dentition, should determine his competency, let alone his compassion and his humanity?
Everyday, in clinics and hospitals, around the country, micro-aggressions play out against medical practitioners. Most of the time, our trainees face the brunt of these offences. I have had to intervene too many times to count, when a patient is refusing the care of my resident simply based on their gender. Whilst we strive to make all patients comfortable as much as possible, please understand that when you enter a teaching hospital, we ask you to be open minded and generous, so that we can train the next generation. If for religious, or other reasons, you need to see a same sex provider, we will do all we can to accommodate your request. But, when your care is of an urgent nature, or the best clinician available is not of your preferred gender, we ask that you consider why we are recommending care by this physician. And if, by chance, our colleague, whether in training or as a licensed/experienced physician, is different from you, please see them for the human they are; the one who has chosen to make your life their life’s work.
We all want to be valued and respected for who we are and what we do. It’s what we must demand of each other.