Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shouldn't medical professionals know better?

I was reading a blog in Medscape (a branch of webmd that focuses on medical education; unfortunately requires registration) in which a med student talks about homophobic comments made by her attendings (and how in medical settings, homophobic comments are more tolerated than racist comments). Unfortunately, racism, sexism and homophobia are as prevalent in the clinics as they are in the real world (after all, doctors do come from the real world), but I found it pretty surprising that in the poll attached to it, 84% of respondents have experienced a racist or homophobic comment in a medical setting (and even more upsetting was the fact that a third of those aren't bothered by it). Granted, this is an online poll with small numbers (and anecdotally, I've heard similar experiences from many other med students), but the fact that it even exists is not right. I know that there are good and bad people out there and there's nothing keeping a bigoted asshole from becoming a doctor, but it saddens me to think that people in a field that is devoted to caring about others can see nothing wrong with hating someone just for who they are.


  1. I've always wondered why we can't stop being racist, sexist, and homophobic and just agree to start hating the Dutch.

    But all kidding aside, this is something I've been a little worried about, as well: if I hear a blatantly racist/sexist/homophobic/religiously intolerant comment while on my rotations, what would or should I do? I'm not really sure, but I suppose it's always context (and content) dependent.

  2. yeah, i'm not sure what I'd do in that situation. I'd like to say that I'll stand up for what's right, but medicine is a hierarchy and I can't ignore the fact that my grade (and future) depends on me not antagonizing my superiors.

  3. I'm not even thinking of it in terms of effect on grades and future. At least not directly. The "right" thing to do is, of course, to call people out on it. But the question still remains what we would hope to accomplish by doing that. We may be personally offended by somebody's hillbilly ways of thinking, but is us calling them out on it going to make things any different? And is it our responsibility to fight that losing battle? Would we be serving the public interest or merely our own personal satisfaction and assuagement?

    I know that probably sounds terrible but, thinking purely pragmatically (not ethically or morally, which is a valid consideration), is us calling an old doc out for calling a female doc/medical student "honey," or saying disparaging remarks about an ethnic group, or displaying homophobia going to do anything to fix the problem or change their ways? Probably not.

    It's hard for me to really know what I would do, though, if I heard something disparaging. And I suppose it would depend, unfortunately, on how disparaging it was. I would like to think that if somebody did some horrible name calling I would at least say that I was being made to feel uncomfortable. And I would imagine that if it was ever done to anybody's face, I would probably lash out with a vengeance.

    I guess we'll find out our responses to this troubling circumstance soon enough...

  4. yeah, you're right, but the same kind of rationalization can be used for any instance of racist/sexist/etc comments in the real world as well. I don't think calling them out will do anything to change the opinions of the "old doc" but the new docs will learn that it's not appropriate. If no one calls them out on it, it'll make the hospital/school become an environment in which making disparaging comments are ok.

    What my reaction will be certainly does depend on the circumstance and, yes, we will find out soon enough.