UofT Webinar Highlights Issues of Racism During COVID-19

May 22, 2020

First slide from webinarRecently, the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine hosted a webinar entitled "Real Talk: Racism Towards Physicians and Other Healthcare Providers During COVID-19" - creating a discussion surrounding the racism that several physicians, healthcare providers and patients are currently encountering with the ongoing pandemic.

The webinar was moderated by Dr. Alpna Munshi who is the Medical Lead of Community Mental Health at Toronto Western Hospital, as well as the Director of International Medical Graduate Training and Assistant Professor with UofT. The speakers included Dr. Onye Nnorom who is a Clinical Consultant for the Nicotine Dependence Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, as well as the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Lead & Black Health Theme Lead at the Faculty of Medicine and President of Black Physicians' Association of Ontario; and Dr. Kenneth Fung who is the Clinical Director of the Asian Initiative in Mental Health at Toronto Western Hospital, as well as an Associate Professor with the Department of Psychiatry, President of the Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture, and Former Chair of the Federation of Chinese American and Chinese Canadian Medical Societies.

Dr. Nnorom spoke of the pre-COVID era, revolving around the systemic racism that has created a barrier between patients and the care they require. With the pandemic, inequities for particular groups of people have become starker, showing that socioeconomic status, often tied to equity-seeking groups, may be a detriment to practicing social distancing. Poverty, work in service industries and incarceration have been shown to increase the risk of contracting COVID-19, according to CDC data. However, it is not only patients whose care and safety are impacted by systemic racism. In Britain, front-line physicians who have died from COVID have been disproportionately from minority groups.

Dr. Fung pointed out that the weaknesses in our existing health care systems and long-term care facilities have been fully exposed by the challenges of COVID-19 community spread, but it has also exposed the systemic racism in our communities. Existing racism against Asian-Canadians has only increased, as anger and blame have been directed towards this group from the start of the pandemic - including towards Asian-Canadian physicians and nurses. These micro and macro-aggressions have manifested into overt acts of racism from colleagues, patients, families and members of the public. Some members of this community have experienced shame and a loss of their Canadian identity as a result.

Dr. Cindy Maxwell, the UofT ObGyn Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Officer, believes that community is one of the most important parts of breaking down barriers. "For those of us in obstetrics, gynaecology, fertility care and reproductive health, we can do our part by being observant," said Dr. Maxwell. "If we witness acts of racism against any person (including ourselves) who might be our patient, support person, learner or colleague - please speak out if it is safe to do so. If the situation proves unsafe, consider discussing with a colleague to bringing it to the attention of your organizational leader or supervisor."

For minoritized or racialized health care providers, the repetitive episodes of microaggressions and racism create constant stress and affect wellness. It has shown that a forum such as this webinar can help educate us, remind us to speak up and be allies to others, as well as promote wellness and seeking of mental health care when needed in these times of stress.

A recording of this webinar is now available on the Faculty of Medicine's Continuing Professional Development website. More resources for health care workers can also be found the CPD website.

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