Story at a glance
- Both structural and individual racism against Black patients in the medical profession is well-documented.
- In a recent podcast, an editor of a major medical journal dismissed racism and claimed “no physician is racist.”
- The journal apologized and deleted the podcast after outcry from many within the medical profession.
In 2008, the American Medical Association apologized for discriminating against Black doctors, who were barred from medical societies from the 1800s to the 1960s. So when a tweet by the Journal of the American Medical Association announced this week that, “no physician is racist,” Black physicians and patients were quick to point out that the racism perpetuated for many decades persists to this day.
"Structural racism is an unfortunate term," JAMA deputy editor Ed Livingston said in an episode of the medical journal’s podcast. "Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist."
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The backlash was swift, backed by both personal experiences as well as quantitative evidence: Black newborns are three times more likely to die when looked after by white doctors, a recent study found, and as recently as 2016 at least half of surveyed medical students and residents agreed with the false belief that “black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s.” While the podcast sought to examine the structural racism at play, it dismissed the individual racism Black doctors and patients have experienced first-hand.
Statement from Howard Bauchner, MD, Editor in Chief JAMA and The JAMA Network pic.twitter.com/A1AJNnMWB4— JAMA (@JAMA_current) March 4, 2021
“Comments made in the podcast were inaccurate, offensive, hurtful, and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA,” said Bauchner, editor-in-chief of JAMA and the JAMA Network, in a statement apologizing for the now-deleted podcast episode. “Racism and structural racism exist in the U.S. and in health care. After careful consideration, I determined that the harms caused by the podcast outweighed any reason for the podcast to remain available on the JAMA Network.”
While JAMA promised “changes that will address and prevent such failures from happening again,” some physicians criticized their handling of the incident, including deleting the tweet that sparked the controversy on Twitter.
1) Yes, physicians can absolutely be racist.— uché blackstock, md (@uche_blackstock) March 4, 2021
2) Yes, physicians can be complicit in upholding the practices and policies of systemic racism.
3) @JAMA_current, this tweet shouldn’t have bern deleted. It was a (yet, again) another learning opportunity for your journal. pic.twitter.com/G2PudNFCZz
A Change.org petition started by the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine had nearly met its goal of 2,500 signatures by Thursday and called for a formal review of Bauchner's leadership, restructuring of editorial staff and a series of town hall conversations.
Last month, JAMA announced revisions to its editorial style for reporting on race and ethnicity after an eight-month long review that examined the definitions and use of race, ethnicity, geographic origin and regionalization as identifiers.
"Continual review of the language used to describe race and ethnicity is critically important as societal norms change," concluded the AMA Manual of Style committee.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been edited to correct the year the American Medical Association issued its apology, which was 2008, not 2018 (as previously stated).
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