Family doctor leads course combatting anti-Black racism

A family doctor who helped develop an anti-Black racism course for health professionals expresses her aspiration that participants will “unlearn” entrenched discriminatory practices contributing to inequitable care for a vulnerable group.

Dr. Onye Nnorom

Dr. Onye Nnorom, co-founder of the Black Health Education Collaborative at the University of Toronto and Halifax’s Dalhousie University, indicated that the online course, launched recently, tackles deficiencies in medical education by examining how systemic biases impact the health of diverse communities.

According to Nnorom, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, instances of direct racism or derogatory remarks from physicians are uncommon. Instead, she notes subtler manifestations such as a lack of empathy, insufficient resource provision, or making assumptions based on a person’s background.

The six-hour, self-paced online course, developed with partial funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, comprises eight modules covering various topics including criminal justice, child welfare, and the historical legacy of slavery. Nnorom mentioned ongoing efforts with the Medical Council of Canada to incorporate Black health-related questions into future exams, which are mandatory for medical licensure.

OmiSoore Dryden

Nnorom emphasized how harmful anti-Black stereotypes and social structures contribute to health disparities, potentially leading to conditions like high blood pressure and chronic diseases occurring at younger ages. She cited a report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which identified deep-rooted discrimination against Black communities in institutional policies and practices due to historical factors like European colonization and slavery’s legacy.

The absence of race-based data collection in Canada hampers efforts to address health disparities linked to social determinants. Notably, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found significant disparities in preterm birth rates between Black and white women, underscoring the need for more targeted medical attention.

OmiSoore Dryden, an expert in Black studies at Dalhousie University’s faculty of medicine and a contributor to the course, shared personal experiences of encountering racial biases in the healthcare system. Dryden recounted instances where assumptions were made about her health based on her race, highlighting the dangers of relying on race-based medical assumptions rather than comprehensive diagnostic approaches. She also noted similar negative experiences reported by other Black individuals across various Canadian cities, including issues like delayed diagnoses, inadequate pain management, and denial of care.