Chief Complaint: Cultural Competency
Heading to work one night to what was supposed to be a busy but uneventful night in L&D, I was stopped in my tracks by the overseeing female resident and told that I was not allowed to see a patient on the floor since she specifically requested no males. The message instantly left a stinging and lasting sensation in my forehead which wrinkled with vexation and a reflexive anger that I couldn’t control or hide from view very easily.’ How dare her’ I thought to myself. Something intangible was stolen from me that very moment; perhaps an opportunity or the perceived right to see who I want when I wanted to since my beloved Uncle Sam graciously paid my tuition fees albeit not without repercussion in interest, that allotted me this inalienable right as a medical student. She was needless to say, unforgivable. ‘Why?’ I asked the resident. To which she responded that she had no clue and how impossible and unreasonable the request was considering the unfortunate absence of female Attendings on staff. Alas my anger was justified! I perused numerous pages of medical information hoping something would reveal the why, to satisfy the need to know. Maybe she had a history of domestic violence, or a really bad experience with a prior male, or the dreaded religious view. I gave up my search as quickly as I started. I was too angry to care. ‘This is America!’ exclaimed a male on staff. ‘I can’t reverse discriminate against her, I would be fired instantly’. I smiled briefly, a radical hero on behalf of man had spoken out. ‘Other people who practice the same religion allow men to stand by the curtains in the room. What’s so special about the way she practices the same religion?!’ exclaimed another female staff. All valid points I thought at the moment in my steam. I was cooling down slowly from my boiling point and the validation that permeated the air. Another male appeared uneasy in the setting of the myriad of verbal frustration that was expressed at this poorly understood patient. He gingerly walked away without comments as if to mime his way back to his nightly existence. In that moment his body language spoke fluently to my perception. It was effective enough to grab my undivided attention. ‘Was this wrong??’ I knew very little about the patient and she knew nothing of me. Perhaps this was really not about me. As much as I like to think that I am the center of my universe. The universe outside of mine is far bigger and perhaps this was about cultural differences that most of us pretend to be aware of but never truly embrace. I began to do something that was near impossible to do in anger; I thought objectively. I created counterarguments for every case that was previously raised against her. I unwittingly became her advocate, albeit a silent one. I mimed my way back to other task and patients out of fear of the repercussion of speaking up to a hierarchical staff as a med student. It was not my place. I had only now just turn coat and realize the fallacy of my ignorance. Who am I to convince people otherwise? I was deeply disappointed in myself for ever feeling the way I did. It is an honor and privilege not to be taken for granted to take part in patient care and to learn. Somewhere along the line I distorted and dismantled this fact. Partly because as a minority I expect to face some elements of racial discrimination along my path in medicine but the additional gender discrimination was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. To that patient whom I never met; my deepest apologies.