A viral video of a woman at a Canadian clinic demanding to see a white doctor has the internet buzzing about her demands. While many are shocked by the woman’s insistence that she will allow only a white doctor to treat her son, there is one group of people who are not shocked by the video, or by the woman’s brazen display of racism:
While the internet may be clutching its pearls, according to numerous studies and anecdotal examples, nonwhite doctors and nurses see this all the time. The Root spoke with 12 black medical professionals who all say they have encountered similar situations, some routinely.
One of the medical world’s open secrets is that patients routinely refuse treatment from nonwhite physicians and nurses. In 2013, Tonya Battle sued a Flint, Mich., hospital when a supervisor held a meeting to inform the hospital workers that parents of a child in the neonatal intensive care unit didn’t want black members of the staff caring for the newborn—even posting a note that read, “No African American nurse to take care of baby.”
In 2010, a federal appeals court found a nursing home in violation of the Civil Rights Act after it refused to hire a black woman because there were racist patients in the nursing home. In another federal lawsuit, three black employees of a Philadelphia hospital were prevented from treating a pregnant woman because her partner was a white supremacist.
Dr. Karen Reynolds, a physician who works at Birmingham’s only hospital for the poor and indigent, recalls a patient coming into the emergency room, only to walk out angrily shouting, “I don’t want no nigger touching me!”
“About once a month, we have a patient leave when they find out the doctor is black,” said Samirah Hatcher, a registered nurse at a North Carolina urgent care clinic. “I don’t know why it even matters; and we still have to charge them for the visit!”
Of the dozen black medical professionals we spoke to—eight doctors and four registered nurses—only one couldn’t recall an incident in which a patient refused treatment because of race.
“It has never happened to me,” said Suliemann Wazeerud-din, a black emergency physician in Atlanta. “The community I work in is diverse. I’m sure it happens like that in the suburbs.”
A 2002 study by Johns Hopkins University found that—when given the choice—most patients prefer a doctor of their own race. I, too, have fallen victim to this antiquated thinking, but for entirely different reasons.
Not just because a 2016 study revealed that white physicians believed some disturbing things, like black skin is thicker, and black people are less sensitive to pain. My preference doesn’t stem from the fact that studies show that mediocre white students often get into medical school because their parents were physicians, while every black doctor I’ve met was the smartest kid in his or her elementary school, high school and college. It’s not because of the Tuskegee experiment or Henrietta Lacks. I prefer black doctors for one reason:
I can invite them to the cookout.