Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi is dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and provost for medical affairs of Cornell University. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
(CNN)For so long, Asian Americans have been left out of critical conversations about race, despite longstanding barriers that impede their lives and careers.
Augustine M.K. ChoiAt the academic medical institution in New York City where I work, Asians and Asian Americans make up 32% of the student body and 24% of faculty and staff. Many of us, whether immigrants or US-born, may seem to fit the myth of the “model minority” — successful, industrious, proof of the American dream. But we are far from a homogenous group, and Asian Americans of all classes and backgrounds are vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Asians around the country — including doctors, scientists, technicians and medical secretaries — are routinely harassed because of the way we look, our presumed inability to speak English and other stereotypes. This racism can seep into the health care setting, where nearly one in five practicing doctors is of Asian descent. According to a 2017 survey of 800 physicians in the US, 69% of Asian American doctors said they endured biased remarks and personally offensive comments from patients. Unfortunately, these interactions are all too common. They range from comments about a doctor’s accent to demands to see a practitioner of a different race. Such affronts threaten the doctor-patient alliance that is necessary for optimal health care and can fuel burnout among health care providers. Read MoreThe first Korean American first lady in the US: We will not stand silent any moreThis problem has only gotten worse during the Covid-19 crisis. Last May, a Washington Post report stated, “Across the country, Asian American health care workers have reported a rise in bigoted incidents. The racial hostility has left Asian Americans, who represent 6 percent of the US population but 18 percent of the country’s physicians and 10 percent of its nurse practitioners, in a painful position on the front lines of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.” Many of these health care workers who faced racism from their patients as well as increasing harassment in their daily lives were being blamed for the very disease they were working around the clock to beat. A growing number of medical schools are now offering training and implementing policies to deal with patient bias. But bias extends far beyond the medical setting of doctor and patient. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Asians make up the second largest racial group among medical students and doctors in the US, and they constitute 20% of medical school faculty, which largely tracks with the percentage of students. But the numbers start dwindling among higher levels of seniority. Ten percent of academic department chairs are Asian, and my own anecdotal assessment of medical schools in the US, something I know quite well, is that few Asian Americans occupy the top leadership position of medical school dean.Get our free weekly newsletter
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This trend is mirrored in other industries including business, law and technology, where Asians are rarely found in management or executive levels. Asian Americans, regardless of what they do and where they fall on the socioeconomic spectrum, struggle with what other minority groups encounter — the quest for equality and fairness. Their plight is a reminder that much work remains.