Education and good economic standing are not enough to overcome deep, ingrained, systemic racism, as Dr. Tafadzwa Muguwe found out.
As an intern, I received a page from nursing about a belligerent elderly white patient who refused to take evening medications until he spoke to “the doctor.” I walked into the room as staff wrestled him, and the nurse identified me as the doctor who would address his concerns. The patient yelled that he did not want to be seen by a Black person and demanded I leave. I left, humiliated. Despite obvious dementia, the patient — whom I had never met — betrayed a strong visceral reaction towards me.Muguwe, Tafadzwa. (2020, June 18). A Dual Degree From Oxford. A Medical Degree From Harvard. Neither Protected Me From Racism. WBUR. https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2020/06/18/racism-doctor-harvard-medicine-training-tafadzwa-muguwe
A patient’s prejudice can ruin my day but does not override my sense of duty towards him or her. The prejudice of a peer or authority figure, on the other hand, is more difficult to navigate.
While applying to residency, I remember huddling with classmates who were applying to the same programs. A classmate remarked that one of us would be a strong applicant because of their Ph.D., then turned in my direction and said I didn’t need to worry because I was Black. Was it incomprehensible to my peers that I could perform just as well or better than them, irrespective of my race? What do my friends think?