Virtual Town Hall Meeting Addresses Racism in the Medical System

Healthcare workers and anti-racism experts weighed in on how racism manifests in healthcare

Boma Brown, founder of The Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour. (Submitted/ Photo by: Don Craig)

Approximately 750 people tuned into a live discussion about racism in healthcare hosted by the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour on July 6.

The non-profit organization based in Victoria is dedicated to empowering women by addressing the social, cultural, and political realities that racialized women face.

Their work is informed by their commitment to reproductive justice, which Founder Boma Brown says is a framework that recognizes that a woman’s health, particularly reproductive health, is affected by different intersections of oppression.

“Racialized women in Canada — Indigenous women, women of colour — have a lot of similarities in terms of health outcomes and the fact that we are often overlooked in the medical system,” Brown says. “Any opportunities for women to support each other and reduce isolation is a win for health.”

The Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour is based in Victoria, and offers services in B.C. and Ontario. (Submitted)

SNIWWOC’s work aims to support women of colour, Indigenous women, children, and youth taking greater control of their lives. They work against the barriers that limit access to healthcare and reproductive choice through food, art, and education campaigns.

Brown began the meeting with a land acknowledgement and introduction before turning the mic over to the speakers. They shared their perspectives as patients, healthcare workers, and community members.

Dominique Jacobs, the communications and resource development coordinator of SNIWWOC, highlighted the importance of collecting medical race-based data — something that Canada hasn’t committed to yet.

“The first step to better care is just to start to collect the data,” Jacobs said.

Without it, healthcare professionals can not identify and address racial health disparities.

Dr. Lisa Gunderson, a clinical psychologist and anti-racist facilitator, spoke about the responsibility of medical schools to address this systemic issue.

“There shouldn’t be a medical student who goes to school in this country that doesn’t have a course on historical racism in medicine,” Gunderson said. “What’s imperative is students understand we’re real human beings with real lives and what they’re doing has a long-term effect.”

Brown added that medical students are often taught how to practice on white bodies, leading to doctors missing or misdiagnosing ailments on darker skin. The Support Network is working with medical schools and healthcare professionals to bring awareness to the implicit bias within medical school teachings.

Dr. Harjit Dhesi, Acting Dean of the KPU Faculty of Health, says that students in KPU’s healthcare programs are working with and learning about marginalized communities throughout their education.

“[Students] are encouraged to challenge and reflect on their own perspectives in relation to marginalized and stigmatized populations, and also reflect on how they may contribute to that and what they can do as nurses to mitigate that,” Dhesi says.

“I don’t think there’s any limit to the work in terms of integrating cultural safety into curriculum. It’s ongoing work,” she says. “We need to continue to work at addressing racism in healthcare.”

Rose Henry, an elder from Tla’amin Nation and an advisory board member of SNIWWOC, finished the virtual town hall by emphasizing the importance of making healthcare accessible and safe for everybody.

“Bring the services to the community because Indigenous people are being battered. They’re being neglected [in the healthcare system], and so they won’t come out,” Henry said.

The virtual town hall is now archived on SNIWWOC’s Facebook page.