Now is different
Some residents said they felt particularly moved to act now – as the country entered a second week of protests in response to George Floyd’s death and as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the devastating toll of health disparities.
“This protest feels different to me,” said Ian Fields, MD, a urogynecology fellow at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) School of Medicine. “The events over the last couple of weeks were just a big catalyst for this to explode,” he said.
“I was very intent, as a white male physician, just coming to acknowledge the privilege that I have, and to do something,” Dr. Fields said, adding that as an obstetrician-gynecologist, he sees the results of health disparities daily. He took part in a kneel-in and demonstration with OHSU colleagues on June 2 at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.
It’s okay to be sad and mourn, Dr. Fields said, but, he added, “nobody needs our tears necessarily right now. They need us to show up and to speak up about what we see going on.”
“It feels like it’s a national conversation,” said Dr. Verghese. The White Coats movement is “not an issue that’s confined to the black community – this is not an issue that’s a ‘black thing’ – this is a humanitarian thing,” she said.
Dr. Verghese, an Indian American who said that no one would mistake her for being white, said she still wants to acknowledge that she has privilege, as well as biases. All the patients in the COVID-19 unit where she works are African American, but she said she hadn’t initially noticed.
“What’s shocking is that I didn’t think about it,” she said. “I do have to recognize my own biases.”
Protesting During a Pandemic
Despite the demands of treating COVID-19 patients, healthcare professionals have made the White Coat protests a priority, they said. Most – but not all – of the White Coats protests have been on medical campuses, allowing health care professionals to quickly assemble and get back to work. Plus, all of the protests have called on attendees to march and gather safely – with masks and distancing.
“Seeing that we are working in the hospital, it’s important for us to be wearing our masks, to be social distancing,” Dr. Azu said. Organizers asked attendees to ensure that they protested in a way that kept them “from worsening the COVID epidemic,” said Dr. Azu.
Unlike many others, the first protest in Portland was in conjunction with a larger group that assembles every evening in the square, said Dr. Fields. The physician protesters were wearing masks and maintaining distance from each other, especially when they kneeled, he said.
The protests have provided an escape from the futility of not being able to do anything for COVID-19 patients except to provide support, said Dr. Verghese. “In so many ways, we find ourselves powerless,” she said.
Protesting, Dr. Verghese added, was “one tiny moment where I got to regain my sense of agency, that I could actually do something about this.”
This article first appeared on Medscape.com.