Esther Choo: Oregon Doctor Says Racism Exists In The Emergency Room

Lorenzo Tanos - Author

Aug. 20 2017, Updated 11:41 a.m. ET

Dr. Esther Choo, an Oregon emergency room physician, has gone viral over the past week, after admitting that patients refuse to have her treat them on account of the fact that she’s Asian-American.

A report from CNN took a look at the Twitter thread that had started going viral last Sunday in the aftermath of the past weekend’s racial unrest at Charlottesville, Virginia. As Choo related in a series of tweets, she lives in a state where there are many white nationalists, and there are “a few times a year” when an emergency room patient refuses to be treated by an Asian-American doctor like herself.

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“The conversation usually goes like this. Me: ‘I understand your viewpoint. I trained at elite institutions & have been practicing for 15 years. You are welcome to refuse care under my hands, but I feel confident that I am the most qualified to care for you. Especially since the alternative is an intern.’ And they invariably pick the intern, as long as they are white. Or they leave.”

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Esther Choo added that her experience with Oregon’s white nationalists had once made her feel angry and ashamed, but she has since learned to “show compassion and move on,” having gotten used to being turned down by these individuals.

According to Oregon Live, Choo has also had to deal with less obvious signs of prejudice from patients, including a few who mistook her for a nurse, and asked her where the “real doctor” was. Other patients expressed surprise upon learning she speaks fluent English, despite the fact that she grew up in Cleveland.

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Speaking to CNN’s Christi Paul on Saturday, Esther Choo related that her experience with racist patients is not an isolated case in the medical community. She stressed that this is something that her colleagues deal with on a daily basis, although not necessarily to the point of an ER patient refusing to be treated by a non-white individual.

“The patient who outright refuses care is less common, but I definitely heard from a lot of people this week that they have also had that exact same experience,” Choo said.

When Paul asked Choo if she has been able to convince a patient to receive treatment after they initially turned her down, the Oregon ER physician said that such occurrences are rare, based on her experience.

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“A few times I’ve been able to talk patients into receiving care from me. Or we can negotiate some sort of compromise where they will be seen by maybe a resident physician who is white, and I’m still guiding care, but I don’t actually enter the room.”

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In a separate interview, Esther Choo told Oregon Public Broadcasting that she is now able to deal with racist patients, but she still worries about younger physicians trainees, students, and residents who might be encountering such difficulties for the first time. She believes that the past weekend’s violence at Charlottesville has “opened the floodgates” in the sense that people are being made aware of how healthcare providers of color often have to deal with white patients who don’t want medical care from minorities.

“What surprises me going through hospitals is that there is still prejudice against Asian-Americans,” Choo lamented in her interview with OPB.

All in all, Esther Choo hopes that her experience dealing with Oregon’s white nationalists will convince other non-white doctors or medical professionals to speak up, as silence can be “just as damaging as hurtful speech.”

[Featured Image by Have a Nice Day Photo/Shutterstock]


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