Thursday, February 1, 2018

'I am woman, I am black, I am doctor'

By Louise Kinross

Chika Stacy Oriuwa has written a brilliant piece in Flare about being the only black medical student in her University of Toronto class.

Chika recounts coming to her first Black Medical Students Association meeting at U of T and realizing she was the only black student in her class of 259. “As I arrived at the venue for the social, my anxieties surrounding the perfect attire for the evening slowly gave way to a sobering realization. I was the only one.”

Chika is now in her second year. In her poem above she speaks about what it's like to study medicine in a culture where racism creates this conundrum: "How can you be both doctor and black?"

In her Flare essay, she notes that while there are more than 627,000 black people living in Ontario—making this the third largest visible minority group in the province—the Canadian Medical Association does not track the race or ethnicity of doctors.

She questions the lack of racial diversity in teaching materials and asks: “Where are the black tutors and professors?”

Chika writes about the importance of racial diversity in medical training and in healthcare. In the classroom, it allows for the sharing of different health perspectives, she writes. In the field, minority patients tend to seek out and report receiving better care from those with whom they identify.

She references U.S. data that shows black patients often face discrimination in their care.

She also writes about the experience of racism against black doctors. For example, after showing up for his shift in a Vancouver hospital in plain clothes, Dr. Boluwaji Ogunyemi took a pair of scrubs and stuffed them in his backpack, she writes. A ward clerk then accused the resident of stealing the scrubs.

Given her lack of black peers and professors, “when was I going to learn how to deal with receiving and internalizing racism and discrimination at the hospital?” she writes.

BLOOM has written about a number of American studies that tracked racist comments from patients to doctors and among medical professionals.

On a positive note, Chika says that the University of Toronto has developed a new Black Student Application Program at the faculty of medicine, and that six black students are part of this year’s incoming class.

The school has also created a teaching position that will involve designing a Black Canadian Health curriculum.

Chika says members of the Black Physician Association of Ontario have been great personal mentors to her, as has Dr. Lisa Robinson, the chief diversity officer at U of T’s medical school. “When Dr. Robinson was a medical student at U of T in 1991, she was one of two black medical students in her year,” she writes.