'It is time to call out structural racism in medicine and work fervently to dismantle it'

Dr. Rachel Issaka shares personal experiences with racism, calls on medical field to take antiracist action
photo of Rachel Issaka speaking into a microphone
Dr. Rachel Issaka of Fred Hutch speaks to attendees at a World Cancer Day celebration hosted by the Cierra Sisters breast cancer support group on Feb. 8, 2020, at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Early in her career, gastroenterologist and health services researcher Dr. Rachel Issaka saw a patient who seemed unable to process that she, a Black woman, was one of their doctors. Her medical colleagues who were present said nothing. Both aspects of the encounter have stayed with her.

“Years later, my exchange with the patient and my team’s silence is still memorable,” writes Issaka in a new essay published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “As medical professionals, it is time to call out structural racism in medicine and work fervently to dismantle it.” 

Read Issaka’s complete essay in JAMA, in which the faculty member at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center issues a call to action to the entire medical field. From individual doctors through health care systems, she writes, all of medicine must work together to dismantle the structural racism that harms not only Black medical professionals and patients but the country overall.

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