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Student and Resident Letters to the Editor: Professional Identity and Diversity and Inclusion

A Culture of Supremacy in Medicine

Ferrel, Vanessa K. MPH

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001800
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To the Editor

Growing up, all I wanted to be was a doctor. I was compelled by the prospect of utilizing my intelligence to improve the health of humankind and uplift my communities through direct action and service. Today, I am 23 years old and I regret my youthful optimism. I am disillusioned by the culture of medicine.

I recognize that by entering medicine, I now represent a system that is implicitly inequitable: a white, cissexist, heterosexist colonialist patriarchy dependent on power dynamics to perpetuate matrices of oppression. I have been indoctrinated into a school of thought that uses racialization to assemble differential diagnoses while conveniently ignoring the black and nonblack bodies of color who were exploited and victimized in the name of advancing medicine. The children of these bodies continue to bear the weight of generational trauma. The race-based theory of medicine is an illogical shortcut that serves to support the hierarchy of oppression.

There’s a certain danger in accepting whiteness as a norm. The disproportionate effects of police brutality, environmental injustice, and mass incarceration on people who look like me weighs heavy. Every incident of extrajudicial execution by police makes me feel like a part of me has died. But I am forced to leave my reality at the hospital entrance.

My internal monologue, on repeat, states, “I am thriving in an environment that I was never meant to occupy,” as I navigate classrooms, clinics, and wards in this visibly queer, black, cisgender female body of mine. This mantra is my solution to my own stereotype threat. I am just trying to survive.

The dearth of role models with similar experiences is frustrating, but it is more terrifying to realize that my peers are being indoctrinated into this same school of thought. If we deem the current culture of medicine acceptable, we will forever be victims of inertia. Our silence is violence. The structure of medicine we represent creates and perpetuates health inequities. If we are going to talk about race, we must also talk about racism, oppression, and intersectionality—in classrooms, in clinics, and on the wards. We must hold ourselves and the systems we represent accountable in order to promote health equity and intersectional justice for all.

Vanessa K. Ferrel, MPH
MD candidate, University of California San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, California; [email protected]; Twitter: @vanessaferrel; ORCID:

Copyright © 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges