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A recent article in the Boston Globe by a Black physician has stirred debate around whether doctors should be required to wear body cameras in order to document and limit medical racism.
Amanda Joy Calhoun is adult/child psychiatry resident at Yale School of Medicine/Yale Child Study Center. As an expert in anti-Black racism in the medical field, she’s speaking out after witnessing multiple instances of blatant prejudice among medical professionals, including an instance when medical staff laughed at a Black teen experiencing a gunshot wound.
The boy was “just another criminal,” the staff said, according to Calhoun’s account in the Boston Globe.
“As a physician, I have witnessed countless racist behaviors toward Black patients, often coupled with conscious and cruel statements,” Calhoun said. “I have heard White nurses joke that young Black children will probably join gangs and doctors describe the natural hair of Black people as “wild” and “unkempt.” I have seen Black patients unnecessarily physically restrained.”
Solution: Make doctors wear body cameras?
For centuries, Black Americans, especially those who descend from the formerly enslaved, have eyed the U.S. medical industry with outright fear and distrust, due to racist and cruel practices uniquely inflicted upon them.
Despite apologies and commitments to do better following decades of illegal and inhumane experimentation on Black people, such as the infamous Tuskegee study when dozens of Black men were unknowingly subjected to syphillis so that researchers could study how the disease progresses. The Centers for Disease Control maintains an online timeline of the study from its inception in 1932 to President Clinton’s apology in 1997, 55 years later.
Though medical institutions across the country have made antiracism pledges in the wake of George Floyd’s police lynching in 2020, Calhoun notes, “Black Americans still are suffering from medical violence, which kills through delays in medical care, pain under-treatment and misdiagnoses.”
A solution that Calhoun prescribes includes forcing doctors to wear body cameras. Citing data that shows a reduction in police brutality and bullying when law enforcement and schools implement them, Calhoun suggests hospitals begin to do the same.
“If we want to see a reduction in poor health outcomes for Black patients, we must hold health care professionals accountable in real time,” she said.
No Black person is immune to medical racism
For years researchers have listed the many diseases that Black Americans are disproportionately more likely to contract and die from, including: cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, asthma and more.
For instance, one of the most life-threatening things a Black woman can do in this country is give birth. The United States has the highest rates of maternal mortality (death of a mother during pregnancy or within a year of the end of a pregnancy) of any wealthy nation. And Black women are twice as likely to die during child birth than White women.
While Mississippi has the highest maternal mortality rate, Oklahoma isn’t far behind. Despite Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt’s campaign promise to make the state “Top 10,” Oklahoma ranks in the bottom 10 of states when it comes to maternal mortality disparities for Black women, according to the CDC.
In urging the medical field to adopt body cameras for doctors, Calhoun said “Racism in hospitals is underreported, in part because the burden of proof often falls on the patient or witness reporting it, and risks of retaliation can be high.”
It’s unclear whether the suggestion will lead to adoption or changes in the systemic racism Black Americans face in the medical field. In the meantime, Calhoun advises people experiencing discrimination to ask for a patient advocate or to file a formal complaint.