The following was originally posted to Dr. Linda.
The news has recently reported the story about the Cleveland Clinic resident, Dr. Lara Kallab, who was fired after making anti-Semitic comments on twitter. Among them, she tweeted that “I’ll purposely give all the [Jews] the wrong meds,” Not only were people horrified by her comments, she lost her job (and possibly career) because of it. However, was her punishment too harsh or not severe enough?
My opinion is that there is no room for racism in medicine; not towards patients nor towards doctors. As humans, we are all entitled to our own opinions, beliefs, and religion. As doctors, we are called to treat all patients, regardless of their opinions, beliefs, or religion. If we are not capable of setting aside our prejudices to treat patients, we should not be taking care of patients. Patients trust that when they have a medical condition and seek help, they will receive just that. It is plain wrong, not just professionally, but ethically and morally as well, to differentiate the level of medical care we provide based on our racist preconceptions. Not only should doctors be fired for discriminating against patients, they should be prevented from practicing at all. Imagine a patient who is sick and needs medical care but receives racism instead? This is just harmful and doctors should not be allowed to harm patients, whether directly or through distorted worldviews.
The incident cited in the media should never have reached this point. Incoming medical students should be screened for such aberrant behavior. All medical students and residents should receive training in cultural competency. Violations should be dealt with swiftly and strictly. Should this resident have been fired? Absolutely! Patients of Jewish background would never feel safe seeking treatment from her. While they can try to avoid her, there may be instances where they cannot. Why should a sick patient have to research a doctor’s background to make sure they are safe from medical sabotage? They shouldn’t and this doctor should not be allowed to practice.
People all have their own belief systems and that is what makes us truly exceptional. Physicians, however, have an obligation to professionalism and the oath they swore to uphold. Threatening patients, even just on social media, is reprehensible and should receive swift and harsh punishment.
While this is true for patients, I have often seen doctors face the same prejudices, not only from patients but their colleagues as well. There have been some patients who have asked me not to refer them to specialists of certain ethnic backgrounds. In those cases, I inform them that I don’t pay attention to the race of the specialists I refer to, but rather refer them to the best. I suggest if they want to find a specialist based on their racist worldview, I would be unable to help them and they would have to do it on their own. Many studies demonstrate that physicians of certain races get paid less for the same job. How can we root out racism against patients when we cannot even solve it among ourselves?
Most people may never see these bigotries in action, but others have and remain silent. Are the racists worse or those who turn the other way and allow them to continue? Medicine is unique among professions in that people’s lives depend on it. We cannot allow a system that prevents patients from seeking care out of fear they will be victims of racial/ethnic hatred. Additionally, we must fix the healthcare culture where the best and brightest are overlooked and treated as less than their majority counterparts. There is no room for racism in medicine. Are you going to speak up? Or will more Dr. Kallabs be allowed to practice medicine?