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My medical school lesson was tinged with racism. Did that affect how I treated a sickle cell patient years later?

The young woman was curled up in a ball. She was sweating and shivering from pain. As she answered my questions, all my many, many questions, tears fell silently from her eyes.

I was a third-year medical student, and the resident I was working with had asked me to evaluate this woman. She had been here several times before. She was in the middle of a sickle cell crisis.

I remembered this young woman while reading STAT’s recent story about how too many patients with sickle cell face exhausting, infuriating and life-threatening delays in getting care when they arrive in emergency rooms in excruciating pain from a restricted flow of oxygen to their organs.

Thinking back, I’ve recognized the truth of that article: We don’t always take sickle cell seriously. I realized, too, that I, a doctor of color, might be complicit in bias against these patients. The more I think about it, the more I realize how deep the roots of that injustice stretch.


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