How to handle a prejudiced patient

From Bioethics International

How do you answer the question, “Can’t I get an American doctor?” When confronted with prejudiced patients, physicians may struggle to keep their emotions in check while treating those patients competently and with respect. Sometimes, it may be impossible to overcome a patient’s intolerance.

Response: From the time of Hippocrates’ Oath through today’s ethical principles adopted by the American Medical Association, physicians have been expected to provide competent medical care with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights. Most physicians have managed to detach themselves from strong emotional reactions toward less-than-likeable patients and illnesses while maintaining a humane approach to their patients and their art.

But physicians are people too, and sometimes their emotions can be unleashed when faced with verbal or emotional abuse at the hands of patients who are judgmental. In the past, patient prejudice was directed to the race and gender of doctors. Today, a new form of patient prejudice is being more frequently encountered in clinics and hospitals by those thought to be Muslims or of Middle Eastern descent, especially after the attacks of Sept. 11 and the xenophobic media coverage. This discrimination affects physicians who look or sound different, have a different name or come from a different country.

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