(Editor’s Note: AsAmNews continues its countdown of the top 5 stories of 2017. Story number three is an Asian American doctor’s experience with White supremacists.)
By Gabi Wy
After Charlottesville’s violent White supremacist protests in August, the country’s discussion of race and bigotry blew up, so Dr. Esther Choo turned to Twitter to share her own experiences of racism in the health care system. The reaction she received was totally unexpected.
“I think the ER is just a concentrated version of the outside world,” Choo said. “There’s a million different ways racism can play out. It can be something really subtle, a microaggression, or up the spectrum to patients refusing care.”
As an Asian American doctor, Choo tweeted in August about her experiences of patients refusing care simply because of her ethnicity.
1/ We’ve got a lot of white nationalists in Oregon. So a few times a year, a patient in the ER refuses treatment from me because of my race.
— Esther Choo (@choo_ek) August 13, 2017
Four months and nearly 50,000 likes later, Choo talked to AsAmNews about what motivated her to speak out.
“I had these extreme racist groups on my mind, and I think it was also a time when the whole country was thinking about it,” she said. “It came to my mind that I had never really had a full conversation with anybody about racism in health care. With all these things swirling around in my brain, I decided to tweet.”
Choo’s initial tweet was retweeted more than 25,000 times, and Chelsea Clinton took notice as well, thanking Choo for her stance.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) August 15, 2017
“I thought my friends would read it, and maybe then we could talk about it,” Choo said. “I wasn’t thinking that people outside of medicine would take any interest. It was definitely a shock to me.”
Choo wrote in her tweets that she’s now able to show compassion in the face of racism. You can see her entire series of tweets here.
“It was harder when I was a junior attending and when I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my own practice,” she said. “This perceived rejection from patients set into my own lack of confidence and whether I belonged there. Over time you develop more security in your position and you realize the problem is not with you.”
Choo said she’s grateful to work in a no-hate workplace that does not tolerate any kind of racism towards its diverse staff.
“I need to make sure my team feels this is a safe space to work,” she said. “If a patient is responsible for their words, then they are not treated here. Healthcare settings with clear guidelines like that make decision-making straightforward.”
Even though Choo knows how to handle racist patients and not let it affect her self esteem, she is hopeful for change in the future.
“I’m optimistic,” she said. “We’re so much closer to change if we are talking about it. Along with many other things, maybe this helped get the ball rolling and will allow us to do data collection and solution finding and research on how to improve the experience of medicine for physicians.”
Choo said she’s already heard from people who want to do more research into the subject.
“Global change comes very slowly,” she said, “but it has to start somewhere.”
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