The Misuse of Race in Medical Diagnosis

The Misuse of Race in Medical Diagnosis

Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
May 2004, Volume 113 / Issue 5

Richard S. Garcia

I am a 39-year-old Hispanic male born in Stockton, Calif, to a mother who—after many years of unwise eating—has recently been diagnosed with diabetes and to a father I didn’t know who floated away at the end of a needle in his sister’s garage. I prefer being called Mexican to Hispanic, though I’ve never been to Mexico. I eat a fat American’s diet. Speak American English. Although I don’t smoke, I have been living in a big city with polluted air. An American city where I recently was an assistant professor of pediatrics, working in a profession that tries to define my indefinable race without asking for my input.

I helped train medical students and residents who are all taught, as I was when I was a medical student, to assess each patient first in terms of age, race, and gender. Always in that order. A 52-year-old white female, a 3-month-old Asian male, a 39-year-old Hispanic male. The actual identity of patients remains ignored: A 47-year-old African American female—who’s never been to Africa and prefers to call herself black if ever asked by a white doctor, though none ever asks—two-pack-a-day smoker, still living with her mother in South Central Los Angeles, presents with fatigue.

The doctor asks the patient—or the parent of the patient, if you’re a pediatrician—for his or her age. The gender is determined during the physical examination…

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