Doctors have a duty to care for the sick as part of their profession, but sometimes this can be quite a task especially if they're confronted with discrimination by their own patients. This issue is exactly what a new Stanford University study wants to find a possible solution for.

Researchers from the university's School of Medicine have identified various steps on how doctors can better deal with discrimination from patients or their families.

Dr. Emily Whitgob, a developmental-behavioral pediatrics fellow at Stanford and lead author of the study, explained that while many people talk about doctors mistreating their trainees or clinicians mistreating their patients, they tend to overlook the discrimination that doctors face at the hands of their patients.

This can be seen in a survey conducted in 2015, where it was discovered that as much as 15 percent of pediatric residents in Stanford had experienced or witnessed a medical trainee suffering mistreatment by patients or their families.

Whitgob and her team wanted to develop different ways on how doctors can better handle discrimination from the people they care for. Their strategies are highlighted in a study featured in the journal Academic Medicine.

Discrimination In Medicine

To come up with their steps on how to combat discrimination, the researchers interviewed 13 doctors from the evaluation committee of Stanford's pediatric residency program. These physicians are responsible for providing support and training for their fellow doctors.

The research team asked the participating doctors how they would advise trainees to properly respond to racial, religious and gender discrimination. They were also asked how they would respond to these scenarios themselves.

After analyzing the participants' responses, Whitgob and her colleagues discovered several themes.

One of these themes was the importance of finding out the acuity of the patient's illness. During emergency cases, the participants said doctors should not pay attention to any discriminatory remarks. They should instead remain focused on giving the necessary medical care to their patient.

"If this is a child who has a gunshot wound and is bleeding out, then none of the other approaches are appropriate because first you have to save this child," Whitgob pointed out.

The participating physicians also agreed that medical trainees should also learn how to depersonalize the event. They recommend dismissing discriminatory remarks as the speaker's own issues and not take them personally.

Another way to properly address the situation is for trainees to "cultivate a therapeutic alliance" with the patient's family. They can do this by emphasizing the importance of the patient's relative to all other matters such as their prejudice.

Trainees can also build rapport with their patient's family by acknowledging discriminatory behavior and finding out their underlying causes.

However, some of the participants said it would be better if trainees focus on providing immediate medical care to their patients and inform them that any form of discrimination will not be accepted. These doctors said allowing families to request alternative doctors would help reinforced their prejudice and discriminatory behavior.

The participating doctors added that while trainees can discuss experiences with discrimination with their colleagues, they should still be able to make their own call on how to best deal with the uncomfortable situation. They can pick up good practices on how to do this during their initial training in medical school as well as through faculty development.

Through the help of the new study's findings, Whitgob and her team hope that they can help medical staff learn how to better respond to discriminatory behavior from patients and their families. Conducting case-based discussions can help develop good practices on how to handle such situations.

By discussing such forms of mistreatment, the researchers believe trainees will feel more equipped to deal with discrimination.

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