For the second blog in the EAPC’s ‘Racism in Palliative Care’ series, Maurice C Scott, Jr. gives a very personal account of his experiences as a Black male healthcare professional in the United States.
The United States has always had a complicated relationship with race. In my family though, I felt relatively sheltered. My father is Black and my mother is White. Both are from rural areas in the central part of the country. They seemed to have a loving relationship, and showered that love on me. Their parents were also supportive of my nuclear family. As a result, I was raised truly believing that when people interacted with me, their judgements were based on the content of my character, not the colour of my skin. As COVID-19, George Floyd protests, and the Black Lives Matter Movement raged, race in America (and all of its associated inequities) was again at the forefront in our nation’s discussions. And for the first time in a long time, it seemed like nothing about my character, accomplishments, or education achievements mattered; nearly everyone saw me as a Black man – nothing more, nothing less.
One day, our hospital palliative care team was asked to see a 30-year-old man with COVID. His condition was worsening and we were asked to have a goals of care discussion with his parents. From the beginning, they were clear that he would not want a prolonged recovery and would prefer to de-escalate interventions and focus on comfort. I went to relay the details of the discussion to his nurse. She quickly looked me up and down and said, ‘I need to speak to a doctor’. I told her, ‘I am a doctor’. After examining my badge, our eyes again met. She replied, ‘You know what I mean…a real doctor’. I did not know what to say. Race was near the top of my mind. I felt put in my place, not as a doctor but as a Black man in America. A colleague encouraged me not to take it personally. I promised to try.
Not five minutes later, we entered another patient’s room. She glared at me, looked at the physicians’ assistant I was with, and screamed out, ‘The Black man is not supposed to be here. The Black man is not supposed to be here’. Shocked, my co-worker tried to assure the patient that I WAS supposed to be there. That I WAS one of her doctors there to care for her. Apparently, I did not look the part because the patient continued to yell. With shoulders slumped and head hanging, I turned and walked out the door. Again, I felt put in my place, not as a doctor but as a Black man in America.
In palliative care, we are expected to see patients as individual people – to better understand them by hearing their stories, acknowledging their multi-dimensionality, and matching their values-based goals of care to a treatment plan. This can be a difficult thing to do. It becomes all the more difficult if they look back at us and see only a colour, something positive or negative, nothing more or less. And all I can say in reply is, ‘I wish things were different’.
Links and resources
- Read the EAPC blog series ‘Racism in Palliative Care’ here.
- Click here for Association for American Medical Colleges collection looking at Racism and Health
- Nursing Licence Map’s Anti-Racism Resources for Students and Professionals in Healthcare can be found here.
- Read Stanford Medicine Anti-Racism & Health Resources: Engaging in Anti-Racism.
About the author
Dr. Maurice C. Scott, Jr., MD is an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at The University of Colorado School of Medicine. He is a board- certified Family Medicine physician, a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), and Co-Director of the Community Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship. Dr. Scott practices with the University of Colorado (CU) Palliative Medicine Service that is accredited by the Joint Commission. He is a CU School of Medicine Compass guide (a medical student coach), a member of the CU School of Medicine faculty senate and is on the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging committee for palliative medicine and teaches traditional palliative care fellows advance communications skills. In his spare time, Dr. Scott likes to exercise, spend time with family and friends and read non-fiction spiritual and biographical books.
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