Diversity Mask

Expecting Respect in Healthcare

Presumably, when people choose a career in healthcare, at least one of the motivations is to care for other people. So we might expect that along with caring comes respect in healthcare. But that is not a guarantee, apparently. For some providers, respecting diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, and size seems to be a challenge.

And lest we point fingers only in one direction, it’s also worth noting that respect must be a mutual affair. Providers can find themselves disrespected by colleagues and patients. When respect is missing, providers might deliver technical services. But delivering care is unlikely.

A Template in Medical School

Writing in the New York Times, psychiatrist Damon Tweedy describes his experiences in medical school:

I still vividly recall the afternoon many years ago when a patient angrily suggested that I go back to Africa and stay there, and the shrug that my white supervisor offered when I told him what happened. I’ll also never forget when a Muslim student’s name was openly mocked by a senior doctor who questioned whether he was a terrorist. Nor will I forget the moments I saw Black patients’ intelligence, motivation and truthfulness derisively questioned.

The Dominant Narrative About Obesity as a Matter of ChoiceTweedy tells us that it’s all too common for physicians to attribute the suffering of some patients to their bad choices. Extensive research documents the blame and shame dispensed to people living with obesity. It’s a false narrative suggesting that obesity has a simple cause and equally simple solution. Nonetheless, it’s the dominant narrative.

You Don’t Look Like a Doctor

The most demeaning situations need not be expressions of open hostility. Fatima Cody Stanford tells us of a patient who waited for months to get an appointment with her for specialized obesity care:

I spent the first 10 minutes of the visit explaining obesity in significant details so that she could understand my treatment strategy. After the completion of this work, she turned to me and said, “well that’s really great. Now, can I see the doctor.” I paused – and I said I am the doctor. She looked bewildered and really was unable to continue the entire visit because she could not fathom that a Black woman would be her physician.

No Care Without Respect

Respect is not optional in healthcare. Without mutual respect, trust between patient and provider is not possible. Without respect for racial, ethnic, gender, and, yes, size diversity, health disparities will grow ever wider. Providers who blame patients for their condition are harming them, not caring for them.

Racism, sexism, and fat phobia have no place in healthcare. Healing starts with respect.

Click here for more from the Times, here and here for more on the problem of disrespectful behavior in healthcare.

Diversity Mask, photograph © George Spiva Center for the Arts / flickr

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July 29, 2020

One Response to “Expecting Respect in Healthcare”

  1. July 29, 2020 at 10:43 am, Cathy A Arsenault said:

    I can still feel the rage. My life changed in January 2012 with I met Dr. Lindsey Sharp of UNC REX Bariatric in Raleigh NC. Prior to meeting Dr. Sharp,I was living as a morbidly obese woman and it was the hardest thing I have ever done because day in and day out I felt useless, worthless and without hope. My health was failing and my PCP did not have a clue about obesity. Why did I not change PCP’s? Well, the one before him did not either, or the one before him. Most of my doctors did not make eye contact with me. Going to the doctor was so humiliating and useless, it was the definition of insanity. My husband research Bariatrics because my health was failing and I had given up, checked out. Dr. Sharp was kind, he made eye contact, he spoke to me not at me, he explained obesity to me and that my feelings of isolation, constant hunger and many other aspects were all part of the disease. For the first time in so long I felt respect and HOPE. I am now eight and half years post -op, over 150 lbs gone forever, and my life is about helping others that feel as I felt, disrespected, not seen, to tell them I know there are people that “understand us.” Please let me tell you my story.