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N.S. doctors affected by anti-Black racism need their voices heard: task force chair

An external review for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia had revealed some startling numbers when it comes to systemic anti-Black racism.

The chair of the task force, Douglas Ruck, says the numbers are “very telling” and that they speak to the difficulties faced by Black doctors in the province.

Fewer than three per cent of survey respondents identified themselves as Black, while 90 per cent identified as white.

“Thankfully, to some degree, that was recognized and acknowledged by the college, and in particular, by the CEO and registrar, Dr. Gus Grant,” says Ruck. “Therefore, the task force was convened to look at that issue and others. This is from inside the college itself, looking at how it deals with systemic anti-Black racism, or how it doesn’t deal with it.”

While 60 per cent of respondents believe anti-Black racism exists in the college, 60 per cent did not consider it a problem.

Ruck says that is also reflected in national figures.

“What it comes down to is, you may be aware of racism, but if you’re not impacted by it directly, if you haven’t felt it – felt it emotionally, in your life, in your home life or your employment – you may acknowledge it, but it’s not a real problem.”

He adds more work needs to be done, especially because the majority of those who responded said they don't know how to recognize, or discuss, anti-Black racism.

“If we take offence from what’s being said we will not make any movements whatsoever -- and silence, silence is not the antidote to racism. There’s a need to talk about it and to realize, as the saying goes, ‘Learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ So part of the trend that must be involved, as was made in the recommendations, is learning how to talk race talk. Learning how to deal with that.”

Another recommendation made by Ruck’s task force is public acknowledgment.

He says the pandemic allowed for the world to “hear the voice of the marginalized.”

“They acknowledged the existence of systemic racism, systemic discrimination. Sometimes that acknowledgement was merely words. But what goes beyond just the words? What’s meaningful acknowledgement? It’s the next steps. It’s carrying out this kind of research, it’s carrying out this kind of review and it’s beginning to initiate and implement recommendations to make cultural shifts.”

He adds that if the process doesn’t start with acknowledgement, it won’t get very far.

So far, Ruck says the response to the review has been mostly “very positive.”

“There is still those groups, and rightly so, who want to have their voices heard, this is from the inside, we live in a society that’s diverse. We need to hear those diverse voices, including those in the medical profession.”

But he says one thing the review made clear is that systemic anti-Black racism exists within the medical profession.

“So how do we deal with that? Why is it, in fact, that more complaints are filed against Black physicians than against white? Why is it more likely that a Black physician may, what seems to be, or appears to be, harsher discipline against that individual than against a white physician? Why is that the case?”

Ruck says the voices of those doctors need to be a part of the process of combatting, and eliminating, the problem of systemic anti-Black racism.

“If we don’t hear those voices then only part of the task has been completed,” he says. 

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