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In recent years, waves of civil unrest precipitated a national reckoning on the topics of racial injustice, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Despite playing an essential role in society, minority healthcare personnel are not immune to experiencing discriminatory patient behavior in the clinical setting. As the U.S. healthcare workforce becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the frequency of negative encounters between patients/families and healthcare providers of varying social identities will likely increase. For minority healthcare personnel, patients’ discriminatory behavior can be emotionally challenging, painful, degrading, and could cause feelings of distress, potentially leading to burnout. Patients/families who demean healthcare providers based on their social identity pose multiple clinical obstacles and ethical dilemmas to care, which unfortunately can elicit a significant psychological toll on healthcare providers. A stable therapeutic bond between provider and patient is built on mutual trust, respect, and understanding. This is the basis of a mutually fulfilling physician-patient relationship and efficacious patient care. In contrast, an incongruous therapeutic alliance poses challenges to achieve optimal patient and provider outcomes.
We will discuss the prevalence of discriminatory patient behavior against minority health providers and explore the impact of these potentially distressing experiences. We will present coping strategies and resources for healthcare providers when directly facing negatively biased patient behavior. Finally, we will offer guidance and a framework that physicians, bystanders, and institutions that encounter racially motivated behavior from patients and/or their families can use to respond to these difficult situations.