Doctors – especially those who work in a hospital setting – often see patients at their lowest points. So most medical professionals take it in stride when a patient who is in great pain, exhausted, and scared isn’t necessarily using his best manners.

But what about when a patient’s bad behavior goes well beyond simply forgetting to say please and thank you and is blatantly racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory? That’s the question posed recently by a female, African American medical resident in a recent article in the online publication STAT.

In the article, she describes a disturbing incident during her final year of medical school, when a patient told the resident that she thought she had only been admitted to medical school because of affirmative action. The resident resisted the urge to tell the patient off and performed her duties professionally. In the article, she also recounts anecdotes shared with her by other doctors who have been insulted by patients based on their religion and ethnicity.

The journal Academic Medicine offers a four-step approach for trainee physicians confronted with patient racism:

1. Ignore racist remarks in an emergency
2. Try to get the patient to focus on the shared goals of treatment
3. Depersonalize the event
4. Foster community support within the hospital

In the STAT article, the author calls for hospital administrators to go beyond those four steps and issue patient non-discrimination policies that “express a lack of tolerance for derogatory comments towards physicians and staff.” The result would be a safer and more affirming hospital environment for all employees, she says.

There’s no question that hospitals, in general, could go a long way to creating better working environments for the people delivering medical care, which would, in turn, reduce the occurrence of medical errors and malpractice that can jeopardize patients’ health. In the end, it’s up to those professionals to provide the same standard of care for each and every patient – even if they find a patient’s views repugnant. But doctors and nurses are also human beings, which is why it’s vitally important for hospitals to provide training and support for them to professionally handle any unpleasant situation that arises.

Kenneth T. Watkins

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Kenneth T. Watkins

Kenneth T. Watkins is an accomplished trial attorney and Senior Shareholder with Sommers Schwartz. Over the course of his career, he has obtained numerous multimillion-dollar settlements. His achievements include one of the largest seven-digit medical malpractice cases in Macomb County in 2008, and his election to membership in the exclusive Million Dollar Verdict Club.