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COVID-19 isn’t the only virus in our health-care system; confronting racism in health care

Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) stands in solidarity in the fight against anti-Black racism, violence and injustice toward people of African descent in the U.S. and across the world. We stand against the racism and racist violence that is targeted at Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) in Canada. As we witness the systemic racism and violence in the U.S., we need to reflect on Nova Scotia institutions and the role they play in perpetuating a system that devalues the lives of BIPOC.As a leader in the health system, DNS acknowledges it plays a role in the racism that shows up in health care.

The social, political and health-care systems in both the U.S. and Canada have consistently mistreated people of African descent, including African Nova Scotians. When we talk about African Nova Scotians we do as the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs does, using the term to encompass all Black People living in Nova Scotia, whether they were born here or not. The mistreatment is historical and ongoing.

Racism is a public health issue. People who experience racism report poorer health care. Their symptoms and health problems are dismissed or ignored by medical professionals. The anti-Black racism of health-care institutions and providers leads to poorer overall health outcomes for BIPOC, including African Nova Scotians.

Two African Nova Scotian women have recently reported experiencing racism in the Nova Scotian health-care system. Former Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis and Dr. Lynn Jones both spoke out in the media about their separate harrowing and humiliating experiences in Nova Scotia hospitals when they were ill and at their most vulnerable.

Racism in health care is also experienced by BIPOC health-care providers, including physicians. Canadian BIPOC physicians have reported abuse, mistreatment and distrust from patients. One major concern raised by BIPOC physicians is that health-care institutions are largely governed by white people, despite the fact that health-care systems and practices rely on the labour of BIPOC health-care providers, support staff and researchers. Not having a seat at the table means health-care policies and practices don’t support BIPOC physicians nor patients.

Doctors Nova Scotia’s purpose is to help physicians thrive and have a positive impact on their patients’ lives, at an individual and system level. To serve that purpose we must consider our role in contributing to and addressing systemic racism in health care.

As an immediate step, DNS will be using its various social-media platforms and voice in the Nova Scotia health-care system to encourage physicians and patients alike to listen, learn and reflect. We will amplify the voices of BIPOC (focusing on African Nova Scotian voices at this critical time) and take an active role in sharing our lessons learned in this process.

We will listen carefully to BIPOC physicians, medical trainees, patients and communities as they share their experiences and their expectations for change, ensuring their voices are at the forefront of our anti-racism work. In addition, we will undertake our own learning and research using the resources that already exist to guide anti-racism work in organizations and in the health-care system. We’re also encouraging all DNS staff to become better informed on white privilege, anti-Black racism and anti-racist allyship by sharing resources and having conversations internally.

We’ve also made the decision to temporarily pause our usual social media content in solidarity with the voices that need to be prioritized right now. In place of our scheduled content we will share resources, critical information and content from Black creators.

But talking about the issue isn’t enough. We will be taking action.

Doctors Nova Scotia’s mandate is to represent all the physicians and medical learners in this province. Yet, we recognize we’ve failed to amplify the voices of BIPOC physicians that make up the fabric of Nova Scotia’s medical community. We can do better. We will do better.

This is only the beginning of DNS’s road to addressing systemic racism. There is much work to be done. We’re committed to making changes within our organization. Our first steps will be looking inward and confronting our own practices that contribute to systemic racism.

We invite you share additional resources in the comments for ways Nova Scotians can join the fight against racism, violence and injustice against Black People and People of Colour. Please take the time to listen, read, support and donate to organizations who are working to make positive change. Black Lives Matter.