Professor of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine
At Duke Primary and Urgent Care’s faculty development session on Oct. 29, speakers reviewed microaggressions. Below, I share a few of the most important take-home points from the discussion.
Here is a good definition of the problem: “Microaggressions are brief and commonplace, verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities…that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults that potentially have harmful or unpleasant psychological impact on the target person or group” (Derald Sue, et al., 2007).
Sadly, microaggressions are common. They come in many different shapes and forms, and most often are disrespectful and negative. They can be conveyed not only by the words people choose, but also by body language and tone of voice. They are personal, and they are subjective—so what one person perceives as a microaggression might not be interpreted the same way by a different person.
It turns out that medical trainees oftentimes have to deal with microaggressions that come from patients or patients’ loved ones. We also know microaggressions disproportionately affect learners from underrepresented minority groups based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. A group at particularly high risk includes African American women.
It’s important to talk about microaggressions with our new students. When I have a new learner, I will ask them to tell me if they are ever made to feel uncomfortable when seeing a particular patient. While it might be easier to ignore such interactions, it’s better to lean into the situation if it’s happening so that our learners can feel supported. It’s also key to have some awareness of this problem at all times. That awareness can help you react quickly if an intervention is needed.