Acknowledging the blatant racism in medical education

Zarqua Ansari, Asst. Opinion Editor

Gatekeeping in the medical community is a mistake. The same argument that’s used by pro-life folks can be applied to racism in medicine: What if that student you denied education could have cured cancer?

Last week, I attended an online panel with three doctors and a medical school student to discuss the disparities in education they faced as people of color.

As a black woman, Dr. Rosalind Gregory- Bass said her experiences working in Wisconsin and Atlanta were greatly divided. Both places had a lot of healthcare facilities that she could work at, but a general sense of mistrust was evident in the southern city. It is unfair that a person who did the same amount of work and has the same credentials as a white doctor would be treated differently simply because of their race.

Gregory-Bass also talked about her struggle to support her family while she was in medical school. Resources directed at medical students with children failed her because they didn’t account for the race disparity. She was able to find a solution when she sought out resources targeted for black people, showcasing the importance of acknowledging race and issues that prevail as a result. Resources, like the one Gregory-Bass mentioned, should be made available around the nation to ensure equal opportunity or success for all people.

Dr. Gary Butts talked about the progress toward equality we have made in the medical community, but claims that we are still far from reaching true equality. He expressed his relief at people recognizing problems and wanting to help.

A key step to moving in the right direction is to call out racism for what it is. Racism is prevalent in more clever ways now. There may not be signs that say, “Whites Only,” but blatant racism is a cause for struggle for black students regardless.

The point of the panel wasn’t to highlight unfair treatment of just Black folks. A graduating class in any field should be reflective of the diversity of the country the class is in. It would be just as bad to have an 80 percent black class as it is to have an 80 percent white class. The defining features for medical school should not be the diversity, but rather the skill.

While on the topic of the BLM Movement and the potential for constructive change in the politically tumultuous environment, Butts also discussed the importance of extending the movement towards Native Americans. Indigenous folks are often left out of discussion. Butts wanted to clarify that BLM is a catalyst for change for all marginalized groups, not just Black people.

In a society where zipcode determines life expectancy, a common social determinant of health explored by Dr. Gary Bloch, it is increasingly important to understand that students of all backgrounds should be accepted into healthcare.

A Stanford study found that minority patients benefit from having minority doctors. The differences are greatest for Black Americans. According to PubMed. gov, when compared to white patients, they are two-to-three times as likely to die of preventable heart disease and stroke.

Brianna Spell, a medical student, explained some interesting statistics. Growing up, males are encouraged to pursue jobs in the STEM field. However, as they get older, women take on STEM education.

As a Black person and as a woman, Spell highlighted the lack of support for her study in the STEM field by academic advisors.

She cited a common incident experienced by Black students across the nation: ‘Maybe this isn’t for you. You should try something else. Do you have someone in medicine already? Otherwise this might not be for you.’

Spell disputes these questions and concerns.

“If I have the grades, why do you dissuade me from it?” asked Spell.

Other people don’t face challenges like these. Diversity offices were a large factor in Spell’s search for schools. She encourages people to speak up when they face racism in class in order to point out how normalized it has become and how unflinchingly people take prejudiced remarks.

Diversity offices offer many opportunities for marginalized groups. When minorities are starting off in a deficit in society, it is important to give them the extra support they need to level the playing field.

The medical field, and other fields, need to acknowledge prejudices and make a move towards reaching equality for people of all backgrounds. All professions could benefit from diverse representatives, and everyone would learn from each other in the resulting inclusive environment.