During my medical training thus far, Trayvon Martin lost his life, Michael Brown was left to die in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner was choked by officers as he repeated 11 times that he could not breathe. But these events were rarely mentioned in the lecture hall, my small-group sessions, or morning rounds. Was I supposed to ignore their implications for the lives of my patients, and for my role as their caregiver?
It wasn’t that I didn’t receive any education on race. In fact, there have been many well-intentioned curricular attempts to understand the intersections between race and medicine. Since first year, I’ve been inundated with lecture PowerPoint slides that list diseases with higher rates among minorities. But few of them delved into an explanation as to why these disparities exist. Many electives boasted discussions of health inequalities between communities, but rarely did we discuss how skin color played a role. And in doctoring small groups, we avidly discussed the association between poor health outcomes and poverty, but less enthusiastically talked about why standards of care are still not met for black patients with chest pain. As soon as racism was mentioned, conversations fizzled, highlighting the palpable discomfort in the room.