Oct. 18, 2023

SMA conference an important step in addressing racism in medicine in Sask., says SMA president Dr. Annette Epp

Physicians must work for change and begin addressing racism within the medical profession, Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) president Dr. Annette Epp said at an SMA conference on racism in medicine.

“We need to shed light on issues that affect the health outcomes of residents of Saskatchewan and that affect our profession in a very negative way,’ Dr. Epp said. “Issues such as racism in medicine and society are uncomfortable to have to face, but if we don’t start talking about them, we will never address these issues.”

The SMA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee organized the conference entitled Racism in Medicine: A Pathway Forward. It was held on Sept. 22, 2023, in Saskatoon, with guest speakers from Saskatchewan and across Canada sharing their experiences and insights.

“I am extremely proud and excited that the Saskatchewan Medical Association has taken equity, diversity, and inclusion to the next level and hosted this inaugural conference,” Dr. Epp said.

She was also pleased to see a cross-section of physicians registered, from established physicians to new physicians and medical learners. “This reflects the importance of this conference and how people in the profession feel about the issues being discussed.”

Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, Physician Advocate, EDI for the SMA and a conference organizer, stressed that what the SMA and the EDI Committee learned during the conference will inform future initiatives to address racism. “The conference is an opportunity for those who have experienced or witnessed these issues to share their experiences so we can all learn and develop better strategies,” he said.

Issues of racism affect all medical professionals – physicians, residents, and students, said Dr. Ndubuka. “While some colleagues may not have experienced racism, others may have experienced it in varying degrees or witnessed others being affected. We want to have a better understanding of who has been affected, where, and how, so that we can form strategies to eliminate these issues within our medical profession.”

Dr. Adeyemi Laosebikan travelled from Melfort to attend the conference to educate himself on racism in medicine. “As a person of colour I have lived experience within the profession and outside the profession. It’s the reality that I face each day,” he said. Most experiences stem from a lack of communication – “things like how you pronounce words” – but he says he has come to expect this: “I have to get on with my job as a professional.”

He hopes events such as the conference keep the conversation going. “It’s important that society is made to realize that racism is unacceptable. It is something that society and the government need to take seriously, and not just as a matter of words, but to have polices and rules in place and ways to enforce them so that racism comes to an end.”

Dr. Kishore Visvanathan, a Saskatoon urologist, noted a large proportion of rural family physicians are international medical graduates. “I’ve heard from those graduates, or I’ve heard about those graduates that they often suffer stress because of racism,” Dr. Visvanathan said. “I think, therefore, addressing that is an important way to keep them safe, comfortable, and confident in their practices. We need to keep them working in their practices – and that builds the health of Saskatchewan citizens.”

He said he attended the conference because “in a little bit of a roundabout way,” addressing racism can also address problems with access to family physicians. “I was thinking about how racism is affecting health care in Saskatchewan,” he said. “There are lots of different ways, but if people are feeling the effects of racism and it makes them uncomfortable in a rural community, they won’t stay there.”

Dr. Uzma Azam, a family physician in Saskatoon, said she was pleased to hear the steps being taken by the College of Medicine to incorporate training on racism and equity issues into its programs.

“Hopefully future doctors will already be aware about racism when they begin to practice, and they will have more humility toward their coworkers and patients, which will improve the outcomes for those patients.”

Morgan Schatz, a fourth-year medical student, is one of those future doctors. “It’s a great educational experience for us early in our careers as we enter the field of family medicine to learn more about racism within our health care system. It is well known that both patients and care providers feel the impacts of this. Additionally, it is also an excellent opportunity for us to develop new perspectives and understanding from speakers today in order to learn more about what we can do to try to make it a better place for everyone.

“Hearing these messages is really useful in terms of preparing us in continuing to spread the message and just remind us of the importance of this work.”

The Canadian Medical Association, MD Financial Management Inc. and Scotiabank together proudly support the Uncovering Racism in Medicine: A Pathway Forward conference, one of several initiatives that comprise our 10-year, $115 million commitment to supporting the medical profession and advancing health in Canada.

It’s important that society is made to realize that racism is unacceptable. It is something that society and the government need to take seriously, and not just as a matter of words, but to have polices and rules in place and ways to enforce them so that racism comes to an end.

Dr. Adeyemi Laosebikan

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