Case vignette

Understanding a patient’s experience with racism.

Inclusive Language Illustration

Understanding a patient’s experience with racism.

The doctor checks in with their patient to learn more about what took place during their last medical visit.


Doctor

I read that you filed a complaint based on your recent interaction with the front desk and I wanted to check in.

Patient

It’s not your fault—you’re great-—it was the front desk… While I was booking my next appointment, I overheard them saying things that made me feel uncomfortable.

Doctor

Thank you for sharing that with me.

Patient

Yeah, I’m just nervous because I don’t like getting people into trouble.

Doctor

I definitely understand, and it’s not about getting people into trouble; but it is about fostering a safe space to have these conversations. I’m here to listen.

Patient

I appreciate that… well… I overheard the front desk staff joke about the same type of patients missing their doctor’s appointments. They said certain slurs and made assumptions to indicate that these patients were Black women. I was hurt and offended hearing those statements and felt the need to file a complaint.

Doctor

Wow, that must’ve been hard to witness.

Patient

It was! I didn’t know how to confront them, so I became silent … if that’s how they talk about Black women when they’re not around, I can’t imagine how they treat them when they’re in the clinic.

Doctor

First, you did the right thing in filing the complaint. The actions of the front desk staff are something that should never be tolerated. Their behavior in no way represents the values and mission of the clinic. I will make it a priority to implement training for the entire clinic, myself included, surrounding bias and racism. Are there any other suggestions you want to add?

Patient

That seems like a good start. I also think it’s important for everyone to consider why patients, especially patients of color, are unable to make their appointments, which many times are out of their control. Based on my own experience, I’ve missed appointments because of transportation challenges or because of my changing work schedule.

Doctor

Exactly. There are many barriers in place like inaccessible transportation and rigid work schedules that inherently marginalize communities of color to not get adequate access to care. Missing appointments are not an individual problem but a structural problem. It is our duty in the clinic to meet the patient where they are without making assumptions.

Patient

Doctor

Patient

Things to consider.

01

To be antiracist is to fight against all types of racism which includes individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural types of racial oppression.  

02

Being antiracist is an ongoing practice of self-awareness, self-reflection, and taking visible steps to consciously oppose racist ideas, behavior, and policies. 

Question to think about:

How do you see antiracism benefitting the health outcomes of your patients?

Ask for pronouns
Ask how the patient is doing
Ask for consent before touching
All of the above