• David Manes

Minority Surgeon Discrimination: When Patients Refuse Your Care


Minority Surgeon Discrimination: When Patients Refuse Your Care

Minority Surgeon Discrimination: When Patients Refuse Your Care

“Dr. Ahmad, I don’t want a terrorist working on my wife. Is there someone else who can do the operation?” The Caucasian man demanded after refusing to shake the Arabic descent doctor’s hand upon introduction.

Such requests are common in healthcare. It’s considered an “open secret” of the medical field. Patients can refuse the medical assistance offered by a doctor due to many different preferences such as race or religion. Arguments abound as to whether or not patient care means surrendering to such racist requests. In some cases, a minority surgeon should reach out to speak with a lawyer about legal solutions to an ongoing racism.


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The Medical Field’s Commitment to Patient Care through Minority Surgeons


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To offer the best medical care to a diverse society requires a diverse medical team. Studies reveal that under privileged and minorities receive better care from physicians who are their same race. This reality is not a good one. All medical professionals should care for every patient with equal intention.

The US census shows that over 60 percent of the US population is Caucasian with 17.4 percent Hispanic, 13.2 percent African American, and 5.4 percent Asian. Meanwhile, data from the MCATs reveal that prospective medical students are 60.1 percent Caucasian, 22 percent Asian, 9.8 percent Hispanic, and 7.5 percent African American. Clearly, a gap exists. To accurately reflect the US populations, more surgeons need to be Hispanic and African American.

A number of factors hinder the careers of minority surgeons. Hospitals and private practices continue to enable racism and discrimination, creating an unwelcoming environment for minority physicians and patients. Welcoming minority surgeons and physicians throughout the medical industry requires an awareness and desire for change.

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Hospital Racism against Minority Surgeons and Physicians

While doctors aren’t permitted to discriminate, hospitals’ commitment to patient care encourages patients to discriminate against physicians. Studies show that patients of all racial backgrounds choose doctors from a race-based perspective. These preferences for a doctor of a similar race lessens race-based health disparities.


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The first empirical study of how hospitals accommodated patients’ race-based requests for a doctor surveyed 127 emergency physicians in the United States. (Paul-emile, “Patients’ Racial Preferences and the Medical Culture of Accommodation,” Race, Racism and the Law) It’s not unusual for patients to request a physician of a different gender, religion, or race than the one assigned, and the hospital accommodates these demands. These requests are most often fulfilled when the person requesting is a woman, a Muslim, or a racial minority. Moreover, black, Hispanic, and Asian patients believe that they receive better care from physicians of the same race.

However, the biggest problem with discrimination accommodation within a hospital is when patients refuse care from a minority physician or surgeon due to racial prejudice. Recognizing discrimination against minority surgeons or physicians requires an understanding of the surrounding situation. Medical providers need to know how to handle patient discrimination against medical staff.


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Example of Race Discrimination Against Minority Doctors

In England, a couple demanded that their child’s routine medical care come from a white British doctor rather than a black or minority doctor. The health provider continued to encourage this racism for over a year. Finally, the decision was made to inform the parents that their child would be seen by a medical professional, regardless of race.

Example of Race Discrimination Against Minority Surgeon


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Dr. Christian Head filed a lawsuit against UCLA’s medical school because the university failed to prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against Dr. Head. He alleges that he was overlooked for teaching opportunities, and he suffered public humiliation when he was depicted as a gorilla being sodomized by a department chairman. Dr. Head is set to receive $4.5 million in damages. (Head v. UC Board of Regents, April 2012)

Example of Gender Discrimination against Minority Surgeon

Denise Johnson, surgical director of Stanford University and hospital’s melanoma program, is the only female African-American surgeon on staff. She alleges that she did not receive the same compensation, opportunities, and support as while or male colleagues. The most obvious incident of discrimination occurred when Johnson faced a disparity in treatment when she was impaired by a substance but tested negative for drug use. Johnson claims that this wouldn’t happen to her colleagues. When she complained, nothing was done. (Johnson v. Stanford University and Hospital, 2005)

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Minority Discrimination against Minority Surgeons

Racial prejudice based on the relationship between a majority and a minority is the most common and often visible race discrimination. However, another type of discrimination exists. Minorities often make race-based decisions that discriminate against each other or different minorities.

Studies analyze the relationship between minorities through a couple of difference lenses: personality and attitude systems, cognitive dynamics, and social norms.


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Every minority carries the weight of certain stereotypes. While Asians often benefit from the perceptions of their race and also favor their own race, other minorities suffer from society’s perceptions. Meanwhile, some minorities act out the prejudices expressed by the majority in an effort to decrease discrimination against themselves. Studies find that those who make decisions based on the expectations performed by the rest of society influences their treatment of other minorities.

Sheltering and allowing a culture of discrimination against minorities creates an unwelcoming and hostile environment against minority surgeons. Since the societal norm enacted by the majority carries such influence, that’s where the fight against discrimination must begin. Seeking legal action against discrimination helps publicize the problem and forces law makers to consider the problem. A discrimination lawyer recognizes the best way to handle discrimination and offers legal solutions to an ongoing discrimination problem.

Discrimination in Dealing with Misconduct  of Minority Surgeons

When discrimination is such a deep rooted issue with a society, many incongruities are overlooked or just a part of the daily atmosphere. One way that researchers recognize minority discrimination is the treatment of misconduct. When the majority race or gender receives only a slight reprimand while a minority race or gender faces severe consequences for the same type of misconduct, surgeons should contact a discrimination lawyer.


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In 1994, a study revealed that doctors in ethnic groups in England were six times more likely to face the conduct committee of the General Medical Council that white colleagues. During the period of 1982 to 1992, a total of 402 doctors faced the committee. Sixty percent were from racial minorities. However, fewer than one in five doctors in England is from an ethnic minority, which puts these numbers into perspective. (“Ethnic minority doctors more likely to face GMC,” BMJ, 1994)

Although Britain is not the USA, our countries have kept similar pace when it comes to human rights issues. And it’s not uncommon for minorities to suffer different consequences for similar misconducts. If the financial industry subject women financial experts to harsher punishment than male counterparts, minority surgeons are likely to receive heavier consequences for misconduct than white colleagues.

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Increasing the Diversity in the Medical Profession: Welcoming Minority Surgeons

Historically, the addition of minority surgeons and physicians to the medical ranks improves the care of poorer communities. Minority patients also report feeling more comfort in seeing a minority doctor, which creates a higher rate of satisfaction in care. Furthermore, the presence of minority surgeons and physicians throughout the medical system helps to care for the incoming minority students.

Steps to Improving the Culture of the Medical Profession for Minorities

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1. Strive for a leadership position.

Power alters an individual and gives the security to speak up for change within a system. Moreover, a minority surgeon in a leadership position allows others in lower positions to feel represented in the system.

2. Report discrimination or harassment.

A proactive hospital or medical establishment has a procedure in place that allows honesty and protects the individual who reports a discrimination problem.


Doctors Experience Discrimination Too

Doctors Experience Discrimination Too


3. Encourage younger generations to pursue a medical degree.

Change is most effective when the new generations are taught to fight discrimination and choose an attitude of equality.

4. Contact a discrimination lawyer.

When complaining within the medical institution instigates no change, a discrimination lawyer provides legal solutions for your situation, whether it includes discrimination or harassment.

If you are a minority surgeon and have experienced minority surgeon discrimination of any type, contact a discrimination lawyer now to hear your legal options.

Chat with a discrimination attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.

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