St. Paul, MN
I work in a hospital teaching hospital. In my 40 years working in healthcare, I have watched as the population of US physicians has changed from mostly white males to a more multi-ethnic mixture with increasing percentages of women. Patients and families have had interesting, sometimes disturbing, and varied reactions to this evolution. Patients at my hospital are often assigned to physicians in our clinics or on our wards. Initially, some physicians who looked “different” were greeted with hostility or fear. In the late 1960s and 1970s, physicians who looked Asian or had names that suggested they were Vietnamese made some patients feel uncomfortable or angry. When women physicians were still uncommon, some male patients made crude, sexist comments. More recently, most patients are silent about ethnicity or gender, at least when the doctor is present. We are more likely to overhear conversations when the curtains are drawn. I have overheard family members comment more than once about the fact that their relative has non-white or female physician. The tone of the comment typically conveys anxiety. I imagine that the person who commented is not sure that the physician will be “a good doctor,” or that the family member may not have confidence in the doctor. I have the impression that waves of anxiety or resentment about some ethnic groups or about female physicians have been relatively short lived over these 40 years, measured in just a few years. Sadly, my perception is that the anxiety or fear that has lingered most persistently has been that voiced about or communicated in other ways about African American physicians.