How One Asian-American Doctor Says She Handles White Nationalists Refusing Her Care

"I don't get angry or upset, just incredulous over the psychology of it."

As a doctor you take an oath to help people from all backgrounds and walks of life — including white supremacists

In the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville this past weekend in which a white nationalist killed counter-protester Heather Heyer and wounded many others, Esther Choo, an Asian-American doctor working in Oregon, took to Twitter to open up about her own experiences treating white supremacists and members of other hate groups in the E.R. 

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Esther Choo, an emergency physician and associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University with 12 years post-residency experience, began a series of 11 tweets about what she's observed on August 13, just one day after the fatal Unite the Right rally in Charlottesvile. Dr. Choo began by telling her followers that as a physician in Oregon, she's come in contact with her fair share of white nationalists, who occasionally refuse her care.

While a hurt response to such interactions would be understandable, Dr. Choo says she deals with them in a calm and compassionate manner, which includes outlining her qualifications and telling the patient she is "most qualified" to care for them.

According to Choo, patients in this position typical request care from a white intern or leave the hospital all together. "Breathtaking, isn't it? To be so wedded to your theory of white superiority, that you will bet your life on it, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary?" she writes.

While Choo admits encounters like this can rightfully be disheartening, she notes that on occasion these white supremacist patients apologize for their beliefs because, as Choo sees it, "It's a hell of a hard thing to maintain that level of hate face-to-face."

Dr. Choo's experiences and philosophy on how to deal with hate has struck a chord with many online. Her insightful thread has received thousands of likes and shares on Twitter, and has caught the attention of George Takei, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, and Chelsea Clinton, all of whom shared her story and thanked her for her dedication to her patients — even in cases where it's unwanted.

One thing Dr. Choo discovered in sharing her experiences is that she's hardly alone. She tells Refinery29, "A lot of people who responded to these post have said they experience these things all the time, or haven't talked about it before, or didn't realize it happens to anyone else. This was really the first time I've ever talked about it."

Still, despite the apparent prevalence of such overt racism, Choo maintains she never lets her own feelings or opinions impact how she treats a patient. "Everyone, no matter what their viewpoints, no matter if I find them personally abhorrent, my outward face needs to be we treat anyone who comes to our doors," Choo tells the The Oregonian. "That message is so ingrained in me, especially as an emergency provider, that it doesn't feel intuitive to say that I'm also an employee and a human being and I want to feel safe and not harassed in my workplace."

According to a 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, women and minorities are still underrepresented in the medical field. "Minority physicians continue to provide the majority of care for underserved and non-English speaking populations," Dr. Curtiland Deville, who worked on the study, told Reuters. Yet "in no specialties . . . were the percentages of black or Hispanic trainees comparable with the representation of these groups in the US population."

Thankfully medical schools have taken note of this disparity and have begun making some of the appropriate adjustments. One resource many institutions have utilized is the Association of American Medical College's Diversity 3.0 Framework. Said framework was developed to provide a conceptual guide for "innovative, high-performing organizations in promoting a culture of inclusion and a full appreciation of different perspectives," and thus far it has resulted in the "growth of inclusive policies, programs, and practices at medical schools and teaching hospitals."

And while it's hard to combat white supremacy, there are people and organizations dedicated to that fight as well. Check out the Southern Poverty Law Center's map of hate groups in America — and its recommendations on defeating them.

Update: A previous version of this story used a doctor stock photo in its thumbnail image. In response to reader feedback, we have exchanged the previous photo for a stock photo of medical equipment.

Cover image via Shutterstock / XiXinWang.

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