News / USA

African-American Surgeon Calls for Equality in US Medical System

Report finds discrimination against blacks, women, Hispanics and obese patients

Dr. Augustus White, with a group of nuns at a Leper Colony in Vietnam in the late 1960s, as he was becoming increasingly aware of medical discrimination against minorities.
Dr. Augustus White, with a group of nuns at a Leper Colony in Vietnam in the late 1960s, as he was becoming increasingly aware of medical discrimination against minorities.

Multimedia

Audio

When Augustus White was growing up in the American south in the 1940s, racial segregation was an accepted part of life. African Americans got second best - in education, employment, and health care.

But White overcame those barriers, becoming an orthopedic surgeon, professor of medicine at Harvard  and a leading figure in the struggle to reduce discrimination against minority medical patients.

Overcoming barriers

White was the first African American to reach a series of academic and professional milestones that were unheard of in the 1950s and ‘60s. The first African-American president of his traditionally white fraternity at Brown University, White was the first African American to graduate from Stanford Medical School, the first black resident, the first black surgery professor - at Yale University - and the first black department chief at Harvard’s teaching hospitals.

But what White may be best known for is his groundbreaking exploration of the deeply-rooted bias against minority patients that he believes is prevalent in the American health care system.

Dr. Augustus White in his apartment at Carlanderska Hospital, Goteborg, Sweden, 1969.
Dr. Augustus White in his apartment at Carlanderska Hospital, Goteborg, Sweden, 1969.

Struggle for medical equality

White first became aware of discrimination against minorities at the start of his medical career in the early 1960s and, later, while serving as a combat surgeon during the Vietnam War. His personal observations were further confirmed when he read a 2002 report that revealed some disturbing statistics about discrimination, not only against blacks, but also women, Hispanics, gays, the elderly and even the obese.

"This Institute of Medicine report, "Unequal Treatment," just spells it out in just blatant, statistical, overwhelmingly convincing ideas and realities about this inhumanity that exists," he says.

It’s conscious and unconscious, says White, but it’s a prevailing situation. "When are you most vulnerable? It’s when you’re sick. And to realize that under those circumstances you’re at risk to receive disparate care is really quite an issue."

Unequal treatment

The report also cited that African Americans receive less pain medication for the same injuries than white Americans; women dying from kidney disease are less likely to receive transplants; Hispanic Americans receive less angioplasty and bypass surgery for heart disease than whites; and the elderly are treated as less valuable than younger patients.

White finds this shocking, and inexcusable. "It’s a moral issue. It’s a legal issue. It’s a public health issue. This is a question of human rights," he says. "People should be getting the best care that the profession can offer them. And now they’re not getting the best care the profession can offer them."

What was even more surprising to White was seeing just how unconscious this bias seemed to be.

"There are examples of female doctors actually giving disparate care to female patients. There are examples of African-American doctors actually giving disparate care to African-American patients. And my theory is that the culture of medicine is so powerful that when you come through it as a student and as a resident and as a young doctor, and you get inculcated into the profession, sadly, part of that momentum includes these biases."

Augustus A. White III, M.D., is professor of Medical Education and Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School and the first African American department chief at Harvard’s teaching hospitals.
Augustus A. White III, M.D., is professor of Medical Education and Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School and the first African American department chief at Harvard’s teaching hospitals.

Medical inertia

To counteract these discrepancies, White calls for changes in education for doctors, nurses, medical school faculty, even insurance companies. He says they need training in self-awareness, so they can recognize their internalized prejudices, and be able to work from that.

White believes doctors need to understand the culture their patients come from - something he calls cultural literacy.

"Medical students should be taught something about the characteristics of the cultures that they may be treating in large part. So if 30 percent of your patients are Muslim patients, you should have some insight, some idea about what some of the prevailing practices of the Muslim culture may be."

With a new book about his experiences, called "Seeing Patients - Unconscious Bias in Health Care," White hopes to make the medical community aware of the problem, and trusts it will motivate them to doing something about it.

But he admits that it’s going to be a challenge.

"There is a kind of denial, there is a kind of inertia, but I think this is a mission that deserves a lot of energy and enthusiasm to get medical schools to be more committed with resources, with determination, with sustained efforts to really change the culture of medicine."  

White remains hopeful that change will come - and that everyone will have equal access to the best medical care the nation can provide.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid