The first professionalism lecture – Reflections on race and professionalism in medicine

In my first year professionalism course, I will learn about what is expected of me as a medical student and future physician. These standards will extend beyond the walls of my School and will shape my interactions for the rest of my career. I will be learning about fundamental concepts, such as patient confidentiality and teamwork, but I will also be exposed to cultural norms about who embodies professionalism in medicine – and who does not.

I am not the only person who feels her very existence in some spaces is political. Black and Brown faces are the shields behind which institutions hide their complicity; the voices whom they ultimately ignore, and the pathologies they uncritically teach. Some people have said that medicine is inherently political – but does this drive for political stewardship go up to the ranks of hospital admin and major medical institutions?

A few weeks ago #MedTwitter was debating a published article which labelled certain behaviours in medicine as unprofessional – including posting photos of one’s self drinking or wearing a bikini. People responded by doing both. But as much as I agree with some of the critiques of the paper, these actions are at best, clumsy, and at worst, exclusionary. These forms of “advocacy” are unavailable to people (especially women) of colour.

I have already mentioned my apprehension of medicine’s alcohol culture, so when I see people posting photos of themselves drinking and laughing about their “unprofessionalism”, I cannot help but feel the isolation of my Muslim colleagues being professionally excluded due to their reluctance to be in settings with alcohol. When I think of unprofessional dress codes, I cannot help but think of the ways in which Black hairstyles, religious head coverings, and other visible markers of identity are either banned, stigmatized, or unaccommodated in medical settings. When meaningful aspects of my faith and lived experiences are excluded from these “advocacy” discourses, I wonder whether people are really looking out for the most marginalized in their profession or whether this is simply a desire to be “popularly problematic”.

Why is it that when “the cause” is the ability of conventionally attractive white women to wear swimwear, everyone raises their voices, but when Black women point to the enduring structural racism of medicine (that famously leads to greater maternal mortality rates for Black women), they are never amplified and are worse, labeled as troublemakers? Why is that when Brown, Black, Indigenous and other racialized physicians try to challenge racism in the medical field and the rest of the world, institutions make political neutrality their cause célèbre?

I’ll let you know if I find out in lecture.

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Thank you so much for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts!

  1. Why do you think there is a still a reluctance in the medical field to talk about issues of race?
  2. How do you navigate professionalism as a racialized med student?

Take care!

One thought on “The first professionalism lecture – Reflections on race and professionalism in medicine

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