Monday, March 21, 2011

Stereotypical medicine

Earlier this year I went to a discussion on the disservice stereotypes play in the practice of medicine. The speaker told a poignant story about a kid showing up to the ER with a classic presentation of sickle cell crisis, but the diagnosis alluded the physicians because the child was white, leading to this boy's untimely demise. While my retelling of the story is overly simplistic, the moral is spot-on. We stereotype in medicine. We stereotype a LOT. Our entire first 2 years of medical education is learning stereotype after stereotype. The most popular example of them all (thanks to "House) is that a young female with anything wrong = lupus. A classmate recently sent out a glorified list in the form of a blog post he found. Almost as good as the food pathology list that a professor sent out earlier this year.

I don't know what the answer to all of this is. The liberal arts educated activist in me wants to do away with all stereotypes, with anything that could risk labeling someone. There is so much potential damage from stereotypes and assumptions, especially when someones health is on the line! The Ashkenazi Jew in me is grateful that I can be screened for a plethora of diseases, and also to have an idea of what I may be at higher risk for. Lastly, my medical student persona is REALLY grateful to be able to learn a full clinical picture while studying for STEP 1, glad to have points of association and clues to look for in questions stems. My challenge is going to be learning the stereotypes in order to learn the diseases but then forgetting the clinical picture enough that it doesn't put blinders on my [future] diagnostic ability.

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