On Social Justice and Public Health

Dr. Christian Head is a well-respected African American faculty surgeon who’s now filed a racial discrimination suit against the UCLA Medical Center and UC Regents.

Dr. Christian Head has been intentionally degraded based on his race and UCLA officials have ignored blatant acts of racial discrimination, including an edited photo depicting Dr. Head as a gorilla being sodomized by his supervisor. That alone is offensive. But the fact that the photo was publicly presented for laughs during an annual medical school sponsored event attended by more than 200 physicians, faculty, residents and guests is both shocking and indefensible. You can hear about what Dr. Head has endured and what UCLA officials continue to ignore: Watch Dr. Christian Head’s video.

“Despite official university policies extolling equality and condemning discrimination, Bath experienced both sexism and racism during her tenure at both UCLA and Drew. Determined that her research not be obstructed by the “glass ceilings,” she took her research abroad to Europe, where her research was accepted on its merits at the Laser Medical Center of Berlin, West Germany, the Rothschild Eye Institute of Paris, France, and the Loughborough (England) Institute of Technology. At those institutions she excelled in research and laser science, the fruits of which are evidenced by her patents for laser eye surgery…

In 1974, Bath joined the faculty of UCLA and Charles R. Drew University as an assistant professor of surgery(Drew) and ophthalmology (UCLA). The following year she became the first woman faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. As she notes, when she became the first woman faculty in the department, she was offered an office “in the basement next to the lab animals.” She refused the spot. “I didn’t say it was racist or sexist. I said it was inappropriate and succeeded in getting acceptable office space. I decided I was just going to do my work.”

By 1983, Dr. Bath was chair of the ophthalmology residency training program at Drew-UCLA, the first woman in the USA to hold such a position.”  Read more

In the 1960s, UCLA was also the training ground of Dr. Alvin Pouissant; he also talks about his experiences with racism:  “Poussaint’s experiences with racism during his tenure at predominately white institutions fueled a career-long interest in the dynamics of race and the impact of racism on the mental health and wellbeing of both blacks and whites. In 1962, Poussaint entered UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, where he served as chief resident in psychiatry and pursued research in psychopharmacology.

Again, Poussaint felt the acute impact of racism. Even though he was eventually promoted to the status of chief resident, he recalls feeling that he had to prove himself to each new class of residents.  In June 1965, Poussaint left UCLA, and at the request of his younger sister, Julia and his friend, Bob Moses, went to Jackson, Mississippi, to serve as Southern Field Director of the Medical Committee to provide medical care to the protestors as well as to work toward desegregating medical facilities.” Read more

Dr. Head’s case is as significant as the http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_regents.html Regents of the University of California v. Bakke where diversity in the classroom was challenged, but makes me think about who’s in the board room and leadership where policies, practices and norms develop. As the Supreme Court readies to take up affirmative action, Dr. Bollinger’s fireside chat a few weeks ago about Columbia University pushing forward with a [http://w.columbiaspectator.com/2012/04/02/columbia-commits-30-million-increasing-faculty-diversity | 30 million investment to increase faculty diversity] as well as the  possible NYU acquisition of St. Luke’s was intriguing.

While Dr. Head’s story is about his pursuit of justice.  What about justice within the medical profession and the health care community?  What about patients and their care?  This story is one of many that unfolds while others remain silent as many only feel their individual personal experiences with racism, but don’t recognize the systemic practices killing us. I believe institutional climate change is possible, but we’ll have to move for justice to find new ground. How do we move past decades of persistent intractable racism within health care? It makes me sick to hear people of color as well as women experiencing egregious mistreatment with little or no opportunity for recourse. Whether in medical schools, hospital corridors board rooms or at the bedside, it’s outrageous to remain silent!

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on May 21, 2012

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