How 1 Black Doctor Compensates for Racism

In a story inspired by NPR's Race Card Project, Gregory McGriff says he can't get away with the things his white partners can, and that has changed the way he treats patients. 

Dr. Gregory McGriff (Gregory McGriff via NPR)

Dr. Gregory McGriff's contribution to NPR's Race Card Project, which asks listeners to send in their six-word summaries of their experience with race and cultural identity, was "55 mph means you black man."

His explanation: "I am an Ivy League graduate and a board-certified medical doctor. The subject of race comes up all the time, but the conversation that should follow is usually very short. When I see the speed sign on the road announcing 55 mph, I know that posting is meant for me. My white counterparts proceed a bit faster." 

Here's a little of what the Rutherfordton, N.C., physician said about how being more closely scrutinized because of his race has impacted his practice -- in ways that aren't all bad. 

"I make a point to do something that many of my partners don't do -- most physicians don't do anymore. I sit," McGriff says. "I sit in the room, and I ask the patient to tell me their story. I'm really interested in these stories, by the way, and every client I meet has a very interesting story.

"But once I get their history and they're finished, I conduct a brief but thorough exam. And this may take about 20 to 25 minutes," he says. That's given him a "well-deserved reputation" for being one of the slower physicians, McGriff says.

"But what I can't do is, I cannot walk into the room, announce ... 'I'm your doctor and I'm going to put you in,' and do a superfluous exam," McGriff says. "My partner might be able to get away with that, but I cannot. And so with each and every encounter, I'm aware that I have to go a little bit slower, have to communicate a little bit more to make up for any perceptual problems."

In McGriff's full interview with NPR, he reveals what lessons about the "55 mph rule" he'll pass on to his 13-year-old son.

Read more at NPR.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM