Systemic racism exists in Canadian healthcare

Header image for the article Systemic racism exists in Canadian healthcare Credit: SALMA HUSSEIN
Opinion: The bias and prejudice healthcare workers carry with them can be detrimental to the health and safety of Black and Indigenous clients.

Healthcare workers try to maintain professionalism and a welcoming environment for clients. However, there are many instances of unintentional and intentional racism that stem from the assumptions and stereotypes that healthcare workers possess. In Canada, the populations most affected by interpersonal racism in healthcare are Black and Indigenous people.

In a healthydebate.ca article, written by Nagozi Iroanyah and Madi Cyr, titled “Navigating systemic racism in Canadian Healthcare,” a woman with sickle cell disease, Serena Thompson, noticed the bias in the treatment others receive in comparison to her experience with healthcare services. The article addresses how Thompson felt as healthcare workers alter medication or dosages because they assume, she, and other members of the Black community, may get addicted.

Her conditions come with a lot of pain, but Thompson reveals that many Black Canadians are raised to hide their pain and under exaggerate any suffering as to not burden others. So, as a result, when healthcare professionals use the pain scale and they answer with 10, for example, healthcare workers respond with comments like “you don’t look like you’re in that much pain though.” These presumptions about the client’s actual pain affects their judgment when deciding to provide treatment, like lowering doses because of speculating the presence of a drug addiction.

A Canadian Medical Association Journal article titled, “Time to dismantle systemic antiBlack racism in Canada,” talks about the factors that contribute to systemic racism in healthcare towards the Black community. One of the main contributing factors is the lack of Black representation in medicine.

Black healthcare workers also note that they have experienced racism in Canadian healthcare institutions. Representation can come a long way in change, however, due to the disproportion of Black physicians to other physicians and healthcare workers, anti-Black racism continues to be unacknowledged.

Listening to and advocating for the voices of Black Canadian patients and healthcare workers is the first step to dismantling the systemic racism prevalent and rampant in healthcare settings. The article highlights that the next step is for healthcare institutions to promote and enforce training for healthcare providers in anti-racism practices to reduce and eventually eliminate the root of intentional or unintentional bias and prejudice that healthcare workers hold towards Canadian Black patients.

Unfortunately, the Canadian Black community is not the only one suffering from interpersonal racism in healthcare settings. The Indigenous population has been suffering from this issue as well.

The same stereotypes, bias and prejudice are held for indigenous people by healthcare workers.

An article by The Star, titled “Decrying medical racism, Indigenous leaders demand health care ‘transformation,’” talks about the discrimination Indigenous people face when seeking healthcare services. The article shares the story of Carol Wood, a member of the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, who broke her leg in a car accident, and after being driven for four hours by her husband to the nearest emergency room, screaming in pain, a nurse deemed that the leg didn’t seem to be broken and sent them home. Because this incident, Mrs. Wood has to take medication to this day for the broken leg and has a scar to remind her of this horrific event for the rest of her life.

This story is just one of many in a long and never-ending chain of events that prove systemic racism to be a severe issue in healthcare institutions. These stories will continue to happen so long as a culturally safe care practice is never enforced or practiced.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada published a fact sheet, titled “Health and Health Care implications of Systemic Racism on indigenous peoples in Canada,” that talks about the importance of implementing Culturally Safe Care in healthcare settings. This practice requires healthcare workers to respect the patient’s way of knowing as valid, that the patient is part of the decision making in their health, and that the patient is the one who determines if the healthcare they are receiving is culturally safe. This practice will provide patients with their right to autonomy and feeling of safety when receiving treatment in healthcare institutions.

The road to more culturally safe healthcare environments will be challenging, but it is an essential change that needs to be made for the health, safety, and respect of the people in our communities who are affected daily by systemic racism in Canadian healthcare. The first step is to acknowledge the problem, and then find where the root of the issue is. In this case, it is the bias and prejudice healthcare workers carry with them in the workplace. In order to fix these presumptions and stereotypical kind of thinking health professionals carry, training, teaching, and workshops that address and work towards dismantling anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism need to be implemented and enforced in healthcare institutions.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.