I know this is a big question, but what can we do moving forward? What seeds can be planted today to identify and overcome racial inequities in our health care system that would improve patients’ lives 1, 5, or 10 years from now on a system and on an individual level?
Dr Konadu: It is a big question, but I believe it has a simple answer. On an individual level, mandatory cultural sensitivity training is imperative in all fields of health care. In its absence, implicit bias is inevitable and will remain an anchor of health care in America and there should be a national ZERO tolerance policy for racism in the workplace.
On a systemwide level, a consensus and direct acceptance that racism is the driving force behind health disparities and inequities is of vital importance. Without taking this step, there is no moving forward.
Black patients are often undertreated for pain and some “dress up” before seeking emergency care so that health care providers won’t think they’re seeking drugs. What do you want to tell your colleagues about how people of color experience the health care system?
Dr Konadu: It is intimidating. The forced inferiority complex is an illness in its own right. On top of battling whatever underlying medical issue ails patients, they must also worry about how they’re perceived simply so they can receive basic appropriate and equitable care.
A few anecdotes: I have had family and friends call me after being sent home from the ED. My urging for them to return to the ED and ultimate discussions with ED staff has led to diagnoses such as acute pulmonary embolism and even rectal abscess. Both are reasonable causes for admission from the ED to the hospital. I constantly must serve as the “go to” advocate and assert my credentials simply so basic levels of care and attention are granted. No one should have to experience this.
You are a gastroenterologist. How have you seen COVID-19 impact your patients? What precautions are you taking for your own physical and mental health?
Dr Konadu: I am typically consulted for feeding tube placement due to the need for tracheostomy or the long-term effects of encephalopathy from prolonged intubation and sedation.
In the beginning, I will admit I was constantly hyper-anxious about potential exposure and passing the virus on to my newborn because I was breastfeeding. That fear is slowly subsiding now that the vaccine has been rolled out and appropriate personal protective equipment and other measures are given the highest priority. At the end of it all, I always consider it an honor to take care of the sick.
Tell us about your experiences in China and Ghana and your role on the West Africa Institute for Liver and Digestive Diseases (WAILD). How has this experience changed your perspective and exposure?
Dr Konadu: My times abroad gave me the sorely needed perspective of how health care is managed outside of the United States. The practice of conservative medicine is an art all on its own.
Once you are in a situation where you can only rely heavily on your inherent fund of knowledge and physical exam skills, professional and personal growth is unavoidable. What I valued most was the exposure to the rich cultures both in China and Ghana. I spent time learning about Chinese traditional medicine and West African tropical medicine, opportunities that would have been very difficult to attain in the United States.
My time in Ghana fueled my involvement with WAILD. As an institution, we offer educational, preventive, and interventional general gastrointestinal and liver services to West Africa, with a broader goal of serving as a training hub for physicians interested in gastroenterology.
It’s enlightening when you are exposed to a world outside of your own but rewarding when granted the opportunity to make an impact even in those foreign spaces.
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This article originally appeared on Clinical Pain Advisor