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Dismantling structural racism in medicine is good for us all

Dr. Rachel Issaka on how to add more diversity to the medical industry. #newdaynw

SEATTLE — Structural racism impacts almost every aspect of our life, even the medical field. Fred Hutch physician, Dr. Rachel Issaka, talked with us about how structural racism affects both doctors of color and patients.

"It's not the racism between people, but the racism built-in and baked into our society by policies and practices that advantage one group and lead to another group's disadvantage," explained gastroenterologist, Dr. Rachel Issaka.

Dr, Issaka's essay Good for Us Allposted on JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association), she shared an experience with a patient who had a hard time accepting that she was one of the physicians on the team.

"When I introduced myself by my name and title as other members of my team had done, and after they had acknowledged, it was to tell me, 'good for you'," recalled Dr. Issaka. "The reason is, because within the healthcare field, for generations, white men were the picture of who a doctor looks like."

Structural racism and the lack of diversity in the medical industry also brings disadvantages to patients, especially for underrepresented people. For example, obesity is a risk factor for colon cancer, and black people are at higher risk for obesity. This happens because of policies that regulated where they lived, access to healthy foods, and safe spaces to exercise. 

"Black people are less likely to get the most recent cutting edge treatment once they are diagnosed. And they are less likely to also get follow-up surveillance treatment (care after a patient has been cured)," said Dr. Issaka.

"So, all of that translates to black people being 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 40 % more likely to die from colon cancer." 

This example applies across the spectrum in multiple diseases with multiple different diverse groups in this country.

By writing her Good for Us All essay, Dr. Issaka hopes to bring attention to the racial issues in the medical field, to change the conversation, to push us all to begin to talk about the impact of racism in medicine, and to urge everybody to do something to fix it.

Dr. Issaka shared how we can help add diversity to the medical industry:

  • Pipeline program
  • Investment to Black Medical School
  • Make sure Black Faculty Members are successful

Segment Producer Gloria Angelin. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.