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A Piece of My Mind
December 8, 2020


Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics, Life Sciences Institute, Ann Arbor
JAMA. 2020;324(22):2261. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.23077

Opie and I travel frequently between Maryland and Michigan. My service dog, Opie, is a typical yellow Labrador retriever who strives to be the center of attention. One day, an airport staff member asked why we travel so much. I explained that I am a physician-scientist with a clinical project at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and I have a research group at the University of Michigan. Visibly shocked, she said, “I did not know that disabled people can be doctors.”

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3 Comments for this article
Your Article Is Wonderful
Rex Mahnensmith, M.D. | Private Practice, Internal Medicine
It is wonderful that you share yourself in all the ways that you do. You and your sharing make a hugely positive impact and difference for a wide variety of people. Thank you, and thanks to Opie too!
Thank you, Dr. Cheung!
Wolfgang Sterrer, Ph.D. | Bermuda Natural History Museum
Your (and Opie’s) story is a vivid and heartbreaking example of prejudice in one of its many forms. If, true to the word’s meaning, prejudice is ‘judgment prior to experience’, then we may all find out how relentlessly prejudices pervade our daily thinking - a crude, undiscriminating firewall against potential risks to the self, in thought or action.

Which means prejudice needs to be examined, thoroughly and constantly, not only regarding its effects, but also its origin and causes, in evolution and personal experience, before it can be unmasked and defanged, individually and throughout society.
Bruce Thomas, DO | Private practice
Your call for people to avoid making assumptions about persons with disabilities is apt.

But I would ask you to be tolerant of those such as the person you referred to as “airport staff”. You must not forget that many such working class folk never have contact, on a personal level, with someone who inhabits the educational and social class in our society that you do, as detailed by the many professional achievements you mention in your editorial.

Countless “staff”-type people don’t socialize with people in physicians' social or economic class, nor do they have the privilege
your credentials confer to you in this culture. The only doctor they and their parents ever came in contact with was one in an emergency room or in a clinic. They aren’t “friends” with doctors and aren’t guests at doctor’s cocktail parties.

Their general separation from your world, other than being a patient or a research participant, which always involves a certain power-differential, is not to be ignored.

Let’s all recognize the many “blindspots”  we need to work on to make for a more inclusive and less judgmental society, even if we, ourselves, have unequivocally distinguished credentials.