Monday, July 22, 2013

Even Doctors Can Be Insensitive Jerks

You would think that of all the people in the world, the most egalitarian and racially sensitive ones would include physicians. After all, we doctors know that under the skin, everybody is virtually identical. We all have nearly the same physiology whether we are white, black, or brown. We treat people equally regardless of ethnic identity. Unfortunately that understanding isn't as universal as I thought.

This past week, a former UCLA medical school ENT surgeon successfully sued the University of California alleging racial bias. Dr. Christian Head charged that he was frequently humiliated in front of his colleagues. He was also passed up for promotions and told not to complain if he wanted to get a tenured spot. At one faculty and resident banquet, Dr. Head, who is African American, was depicted in a slide show as a gorilla on all fours being violated from behind by his white superior. While not accepting any fault, the U.C. regents admitted there was "an inappropriate slide shown". They decided to settle the lawsuit for $4.5 million.

It saddens me to see such frat boy shenanigans are still considered amusing even in the learned halls of a medical school. It's obvious that Dr. Head was never considered an acceptable partner within the department. If he was well liked and treated better, perhaps he would have taken this faculty roast as a case of poor judgement and shrugged it off. But it seems like none of the other faculty or residents knew him well enough to realize that he would not find this slide humorous. And when he tried to complain through the proper channels his career was threatened.

Hopefully this is a wake up call for all involved in realizing the prejudices people still hold against each other. I don't think these feelings will ever be completely eradicated. However, knowing that it is still lurking inside all of us, no matter how much we say we don't have them or express them, will make us better doctors as well as human beings.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, to work all your life for promotion and respect, and to discover that they are mere shadows! And you ask: to think his colleagues knew him so little that he would not find this debasement amusing? May I ask who would?
    My only gripe is with your title: EVEN doctors... My experience has been that doctors can be even MORE cruel and territorial with their own, given their stresses and punishing training.