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“We need to be able to move past the walls of ‘I don’t think this exists.’” – Dr. Terri Aldred.

Although 2020 is now officially behind us, racism in healthcare remains an ongoing conversation and an issue close to home. It was only a month ago that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released her province-wide report on Indigenous-specific discrimination in BC healthcare.

I am not an expert on racism. There are doctors and researchers who devote their lives to this work and are far more qualified than I to write about it. Some of them were featured in an article I wrote late last year for Canadian health publication HealthyDebate about rethinking race in healthcare. I hope you’ll read what they had to say.

When the initial allegations of prejudice in BC emergency rooms were publicized, I remember a lot of colleagues talking about the news. I heard some say they didn’t believe racism was an issue in their emergency department. After all, everyone means well, and people join this line of work to help patients, not to discriminate.

But awareness is the first step to change, and if Turpel-Lafond’s report is to be taken seriously, change is needed.

I still have much to learn. To echo what the experts have told me, I would say we need to be open to constructive criticism and change in our emergency departments. We need to seek greater situational awareness of how racial biases influence our clinical assessments and plans for patients, as well as our local ED cultures on a department level. What stereotypes do we subconsciously hold that affect our gestalts for patients’ pain and acuity? Who are we hiring and championing in our EDs, and what are our local ED attitudes and norms around discussing issues pertaining to race? We can’t afford to “not see colour;” being colour-blind ignores the reality that race impacts healthcare experiences for people of colour.

What stereotypes do we subconsciously hold that affect our gestalts for patients’ pain and acuity? Who are we hiring and championing in our EDs, and what are our local ED attitudes and norms around discussing issues pertaining to race?

As Dr. Terri Aldred said during her interview, “Moving forward, we need to be able to move past the walls of ‘I don’t think this exists.’” Racism isn’t just personal discrimination, but also refers to systemic disparities in social determinants of health, in the way healthcare is delivered and accessed, and even in deciding who is trained for medicine and how. We can be good-hearted, well-intentioned, medically competent doctors, and proud of it. And racism can still be (and is) part of our healthcare system. These are not mutually exclusive. Instead of feeling shamed or being defensive, we can decide to acknowledge the problem and work towards positive change in ourselves and in our EDs.

We can be good-hearted, well-intentioned, medically competent doctors, and proud of it. And racism can still be (and is) part of our healthcare system. – Dr. Terri Aldred

Something Dr. Aldred said really resonated with me: that we shouldn’t just think about how we will call out racial biases in others, but also actively work on addressing our own. How will we react when a colleague calls us out? How will I?

I hope it’s with a humble eagerness to learn, engage, and improve.

For a worthwhile video podcast featuring Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond in a Q&A on racism in BC healthcare, watch here.

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