That was me: a millennial physician’s experience with racism

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A black girl was called the N-word on the playground in elementary school in the ’90s. That black girl was me.

A black girl was called ugly because of her dark black skin in elementary school in the ’90s. That black girl was me.

A black girl created and independently executed a project for the science fair in elementary school. The authenticity of the project was questioned by the judges because something that good couldn’t really come from someone like her. That black girl was me.

A black girl was repeatedly told that she “talked like a white girl.” That black girl was me.

A black girl was told she wasn’t good enough to be national honor society president by the white woman faculty adviser. That black girl was me (who organized a sit-in and became president anyway).

A black girl was accused of plagiarism by her white female AP English teacher because the paper was “written so well.” That black girl was me.

A black girl was called a sell-out for going to Wake Forest instead of a historically black college and university. That black girl was me.

A black young woman was asked “how” she got into Wake Forest despite having great test scores and GPA. That black young woman was me.

A black young woman was told by her college pre-med faculty adviser that she couldn’t get into a top medical school despite having a good portfolio. That black young woman was me.

A black young woman was confronted with tears by her white young woman friend about why the black young woman got inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and she didn’t (despite the fact that the black young woman had one of the highest GPAs on campus). That black young woman was me.

A black young woman was told by her white young man friend that affirmative action got her medical school acceptance in place of him. That black young woman was me.

A black young woman was told by her good friend and roommate that she was too intimidating to be friends with anymore because “everything good” was happening to the black young woman. That black young woman was me.

A black woman was repeatedly mistaken for something other than a Vanderbilt medical student despite wearing a white coat and proper identification. That black woman was me.

A black woman was stopped mid-sentence in a residency interview by a white program director and told, “I’m sorry. You are just so articulate.” That black woman was me.

A black woman was followed in the university store at her alma mater while trying to buy her baby a onesie. That black woman was me.

A white male medical student wrote a negative review on a black woman resident because a resident required the student to know the patient’s name before getting to deliver the baby. That black woman was me.

A black woman resident is confused for another black woman resident on repeated occasions despite not sharing any physical characteristics with that resident besides a different shade of the same skin color. That black woman was me.

A black woman physician was asked to show her credentials to prove she belonged in the physician’s lounge. That black woman was me.

A black woman physician was dismissed by a patient with the reason, “I like her, but I don’t want her to be my doctor. I just can’t put my finger on it.” That black woman was me.

A black woman physician was formally reported by white nurses for disagreeing with their plan of care. That black woman was me.

A black woman physician received feedback that she was “intimidating,” had issues with “tone,”  was not “professional,” and that she was “not responsive to feedback.” That black woman was me.

Sadly, these experiences are shared by many like me who have different names.

They are a mix of both macro and microaggressions, but hurtful just the same.

So the next time you think racism in health care doesn’t exist, refer to the above list.

And think of me.

Tera Frederick Howard is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.

Image credit: Tera Frederick Howard

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