Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate Ethical dilemma

Education and debateDealing with racist patientsDoctors are people tooCommentary: A role for personal values … and managementCommentary: Isolate the problemCommentary: Courteous containment is not enough

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 24 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1129

Dealing with racist patients

How should doctors handle racist patients? A general practitioner registrar describes the unease she still feels over the way she responded to a volubly racist patient she encountered while a house officer 10 years ago, and other authors comment, from different perspectives, on how they would deal with such a situation.

Doctors are people too

  1. Mary Selby, general practitioner registrar.
  1. Christmas Maltings Surgery, Haverhill, Suffolk CB9 8HF
  2. King's Fund, London W1M 0AN
  3. 101A Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8PH
  4. Royal College of Nursing, London W1M 0AB

    It is 10 years since I met Mr B, who was perhaps the most unpleasant patient that I have ever had to deal with. I used to pride myself on the fact that I had treated him no better and no worse than any other patient … and of course that is as it should be … but I am still uncomfortable about my inability to respond to the things he said while he was on my ward.

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    I was a junior house officer when Mr B was admitted to hospital after a transient ischaemic attack. This turned out to be secondary to polycythaemia. Mr B's packed cell volume and haemoglobin concentration were abnormal, and it was decided that I should venesect him, and draw off blood daily until his haematological values returned to normal.

    One of the other house officers was German. For some reason she took against Mr B, although she would not say why.

    During the first venesection, Mr B asked what I was going to do with his blood.

    “Sister wants it,” I said cheerily, “for her roses.”

    “Fine, I don't care what you do with it, as long as you don't give it to Jews.” Not sure that I had heard correctly, I smiled nervously.

    Appallingly racist views

    Mr B was, it turned out, a member of the National Front, and had once been one of Oswald Mosley's Brownshirts. He confided his appallingly racist views to me as I got on with the job in hand. And …

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