Mar 29, 2016 - Things to Do

Charlotte doctors may decide to take their empathy elsewhere

Last week, our medical school classmates received their residency placements for the next phase of their training. Forty percent of them will remain in North Carolina for their medical residency. Others are leaving the state to learn at elite programs like Massachusetts General, Stanford, Emory, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and countless others.

Many have the long-term goal of returning to the state they love so dearly. House Bill 2 threatens to change those plans. Although fourth-year students are committed to their match placements, students from the first three years have received a clear message from the North Carolina General Assembly: You should not prioritize the rights of minority and underserved groups over the preferences of the majority.

While we as medical students of the Medical School of the State of North Carolina are taught to practice empathy in all clinical interactions — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, biological sex, or veteran status — we find it ironic that the North Carolina General Assembly does not act with this same empathy towards all citizens of this great state.

Not only that, but one of the missions of the UNC School of Medicine is to produce physicians that will serve the residents of the State of North Carolina for life, both urban and rural communities. This disheartening and frustrating piece of legislation instructs North Carolina-trained future physicians to take their empathy elsewhere during their residency interview process.

It’s critically important to have competent and effective people within your organization. For the citizens of North Carolina, it’s essential to recruit medical students and residents of this caliber to our state. House Bill 2 ensures that the state of North Carolina will lose key talent both inside the healthcare sector and out.

We have already heard from a number of third-year classmates who plan to lower North Carolina programs in their rank lists next year, which increases the likelihood that they leave after their medical school coursework. The General Assembly actually states within the bill that “the practice of denying employment opportunity and discriminating in the terms of employment foments domestic strife and unrest, deprives the State of the fullest utilization of its capacities for advancement and development, and substantially and adversely affects the interests of employees, employers, and the public in general.” They recognize the impact of workplace discrimination, yet choose to legislatively allow it nonetheless.

Some may ask how this bill would impact future physicians. During medical school, especially at a state institution like UNC, we come across individuals from all walks of life. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of our training. We work with young and old, sick and well, white and African-American, straight and LGBTQ. Our job is to take care of every single person who walks into our clinic or hospital room.

By allowing discrimination of our LGBTQ peers across the state, the General Assembly places policy hurdles that inhibit the health and care of these marginalized groups. If my patient can’t hold a stable job due to discriminatory practices, it impacts their health insurance coverage, their housing, and their ability to live a more healthy lifestyle. This continues the cycle of physician burnout and exodus of physician talent from our state as they face hurdles that are insurmountable in a single physician­-patient interaction.

If medical students don’t have exposure to certain diverse populations prior to attending medical school, it is their professional responsibility to build their confidence and build empathy to serve all. In fact, there’s a growing body of literature on the contribution of unconscious bias to health disparities across diverse populations from past providers who failed to recognize these biases.

The medical and business communities recognize the importance of diverse perspectives, as evidenced by statements condemning this legislation from American Airlines, Google, Apple, the NBA, Red Hat, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and many other employers. We hope, for the health and safety of the citizens of North Carolina, the legislative community recognizes this as well.

Until they do, medical students will look to take their empathy elsewhere.

Kyle Roedersheimer is a MD candidate at the UNC School of Medicine who recently matched at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte in Emergency Medicine.

This was co-written with Patrick O’Shea, a MD/MBA candidate at the UNC School of Medicine and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. 

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