I read an article in the current New England Journal of Medicine that broke my heart. Chase T. M. Anderson, MD, a gay African-American psychiatry resident, bemoans being stifled and denigrated by racism, homophobia, macro aggressions and micro aggressions. But as I read the piece, the picture presented was of an obviously talented young doctor with a very promising future in the midst of a very successful medical career — who has allowed rude comments by others to ruin success’s joy.
Dr. Anderson writes about becoming enraged when the NRA urged doctors to stay out of the gun-control debate in the wake of mass shootings. From, “Taking Back Our Voices: #HumanityIsOurLane:”
And who can forget that in 2018, when physicians spoke out about the need for gun control and reducing deaths from gun violence, the National Rifle Association tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane”? Directives to “stay in your lane” have in fact echoed throughout history whenever physicians have attempted to speak out on issues deemed too “political.”
I have written a bit about this very question. Doctors are — and should be — just as free to engage politically as everyone else. Medical societies are — and should be — as free to engage policy issues as the NRA. But I don’t want to be harangued about gun control or any other political question — whether I agree with my doctor or not–in the course and scope of our professional relationship. I want my doctor to explain the medical implications of my blood tests or whether the pain in my gut is gas or appendicitis. Frankly, I do not care what my doctor thinks about, gun control, BLM, or any other political issue.
Dr. Anderson sees discrimination everywhere, even in the most seemingly minor personal interactions:
I realized that medicine itself, with its inherent bigotry, had conditioned me to silence. I had lost my voice.
In medical school, I had been told by a classmate that I’d probably won the race for class president because I was black and gay. Another classmate asked me if I’d gotten into medical school because “they had a certain number of spots for gay people.” My professionalism was called into question when I spoke with administrators about the racism, homophobia, and bigotry I encountered in our institution. The list of microaggressions, aggressions, and implicit and explicit biases ran long by the end.
This is so sad. Instead of rejoicing at the great achievement of being elected class president — demonstrating unequivocally that most of Dr. Anderson’s classmates were not prejudiced — the psychiatrist obsesses about classless comments. Dr. Anderson has earned success after success after success — but that doesn’t seem to matter. The entire system is rotten because a few people were rude and thoughtless.
Dr. Anderson writes that such interactions forced the young doctor into pre-defined expectations:
If students and residents who identify as minorities experience heart-rending discrimination in their own institutions, how are they supposed to find their voice? How can they advocate for themselves and for their patients if they are continually told by their own universities to stay in their lane?
There is no evidence presented in the piece that Dr. Anderson’s university discriminated. Dr. Anderson was once told to wear a tie — which conflicted with Anderson’s “gender expression and identity.” And Dr. Anderson was once accused of eye-rolling by a colleague, “a classic racist trope.” I am sorry, but those events don’t seem like evidence of stifling oppression. Indeed, Dr. Anderson is in the midst of a psychiatry residency at a major Massachusetts hospital. That is a matter to be celebrated is it not?
Dr. Anderson concludes:
In the face of systemic and individual racism and rampant other “isms,” we can no longer remain silent. I believe we have a duty to heal not only our patients, but also the world at large. I am finally getting my voice back. Ultimately, I would love nothing more than for the voices we hear in medicine to reflect the diversity of the rest of our world.
Go for it. That’s the right of every citizen. Just don’t bring your issues and political passions into our professional relationship if I am ever your patient.
And please don’t support the ubiquitous efforts to stifle the heterodox voices of those who disagree with the emerging reigning ideological paradigms. That too is an essential part of the comity required “to reflect the diversity of the rest of our world.”