Nova Scotia

Change needed to combat anti-Black racism at College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia

A new report from a task force examining anti-Black racism at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia highlights challenges and makes recommendations.

Anyone who is surprised is 'ignorant or ignoring the history of this province,' says review leader

Douglas Ruck is the chair of the task force that examined systemic anti-Black racism within the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Doug Ruck)

An external review into anti-Black racism within the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia has found a lack of understanding and action about racism and a need for better policies and training aimed at eliminating it.

The study was conducted by a task force made up of five people who identify as African-Nova Scotian or Black and who have experience in the fields of health care, social work, medicine, digital strategy, marketing and law.

Douglas Ruck, a lawyer who chaired the task force, said the team's findings were no surprise.

"I think for anyone to be surprised that you say you find systemic anti-Black racism in any institution in Nova Scotia is either ignorant or ignoring the history of this province."

The college is the body that licenses physicians, investigates complaints and develops professional standards.

The task force conducted a survey of the college's staff and council, carried out interviews, collected feedback from people within the college, the medical profession and the public, and reviewed the college's policies and procedures.

Its report, released last week, noted that the college is not an ethnically diverse workplace and that homogeneity "may make it exceedingly difficult to recognize and correct unconscious bias concerning the Black population."

Although 60 per cent of respondents to the survey felt that anti-Black racism exists in the college, 60 per cent of respondents did not consider anti-Black racism a problem. That disconnect between the existence of anti-Black racism and its impact "reflects the composition of the college and the fact that most members of the college have never experienced systemic racism," the report notes.

Eighteen per cent of respondents said they had witnessed anti-Black racism but 67 per cent did nothing about it, and when incidents were reported, two-thirds of the time no action was taken, or the respondent was not aware of any action being taken.

The report said those statistics highlight the lack of structure within the college to address anti-Black racism, the lack of comfort people may have in raising concerns about it or the lack of confidence that appropriate action would be taken.

Need for training

More than half (58 per cent) of the respondents said they did not know enough about anti-Black racism to identify any challenges, and 75 per cent said they had not received any training on anti-Black racism — though members of the council, which governs the college, identified the need for more training.

When news of the external review was first announced, the task force heard concerns from people within the medical profession, including from physicians of colour, who felt there was a disproportionate number of complaints against them and that the college treated them differently than their white counterparts.

"Their perception was that any disciplinary measures or penalties they received were invariably harsher than those given to a white doctor for a similar incident," the report notes.

Some physicians also described "doc on doc" racism, including being told to "go back where you came from" and being made to feel unwelcome. Those physicians said their complaints were ignored or downplayed.

Ruck said there is a need for further exploration of anti-Black racism within the medical community beyond the college, including among doctors and patients.

"We have a much larger picture here that needs to be addressed. But this is an important step — incremental, but an important step."

Recommendations

The task force's two key recommendations are that the college create an equity, diversity and inclusion committee and an action plan for dismantling anti-Black racism within the college.

Other recommendations include that the college:

  • Have one public member from the African-Nova Scotian community on council at all times.
  • Improve diversity within the organization.
  • Introduce mandatory training on anti-Black racism.
  • Establish policies and procedures to address complaints of anti-Black racism.

Dr. Gus Grant, the college's registrar and CEO, said the task force recommendations are "not just reasonable, but top to bottom are largely actionable and we look forward to implementing them."

Dr. Gus Grant is the registrar and CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Grant said the college has already carried out some of the recommendations, including adding an African-Nova Scotian representative to the council.

When the college began the work of commissioning the task force, it acknowledged from the outset that racism was present within the field of medicine and the college itself, Grant said.

Though parts of the report were disturbing to read, Grant said, "That's why we needed to do the report. That's why we needed to go through this exercise."

"The essential challenge when going through this examination, when asking external expert eyes to examine on this incredibly sensitive subject, the challenge is to force yourself to be comfortable when dealing with an uncomfortable topic."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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