Hashtag Medicine: Medical Twitter Confronts Racism Head On

Liz Neporent

June 01, 2020

In the aftermath of George Floyd's death and the resulting protests, many prominent physician groups are taking to social media to shine a spotlight on racism as a public health issue.

"The AAFP opposes all forms of institutional racism and supports family physicians to actively work to dismantle racist and discriminatory practices and policies in their organizations and communities…" The American Academy of Family Physicians tweeted out on Sunday evening, just as crowds began gathering in many parts of the country for what has become a daily cycle of protests. 

The tweet linked to a full statement by AAFP president Gary L. LeRoy, MD, which went on to say, "In particular, discriminatory policing, coupled with the use of excessive force, pose health and safety hazards to individuals and populations residing in targeted communities. This is particularly apparent for people of color and other socially marginalized groups."

https://twitter.com/aafp/status/1267202957591941120

Other major medical organizations tweeted similar statements, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and the American College of Gastroenterologists.

https://twitter.com/AmCollegeGastro/status/1267427434804240387

Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died last week after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee against his neck for more than 8 minutes. Outrage over his death quickly spread, with peaceful protests and violent riots occurring nightly across the country and around the world for the past week. 

Individual physicians also filled their Twitter feeds with their thoughts about Floyd's death and systemic racism in the US.

"Professional silence in the face of social injustice is wrong...To try to avoid the political fray through silence is impossible...Either engage, or assist the harm," tweeted Michelle P. Durham, MD, a psychiatrist at Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts.

https://twitter.com/PsychMDMD/status/940201116578533378

And Kimberly D. Manning, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia tweeted, "I know a lot of folks are wishing everyone would get on to positive things and stop perseverating on racism and the recent killings of unarmed black people. Trust me—we've been wishing that for centuries now. Please allow yourselves to be uncomfortable and disrupted, too."

https://twitter.com/gradydoctor/status/1267073424326828048

The conversation on social media about medicine's role in combating racial disparity is not new and certainly didn't originate with Floyd's death. For example, some physicians are now using the hashtag #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives to organize their conversations about the incident and state their support for nonviolent protest.

In 2015, medical students and others used the hashtag in relation to "die-ins" organized at 70 US medical schools to oppose the contribution of institutional racism on health outcomes. And after the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the American Psychological Association was among several medical societies who tweeted out policy statements on hate crime, discrimination, and racial disparities as a public health concern.

https://twitter.com/APA/status/897525815843454976

Liz Neporent is Medscape's executive editor of social media and community. She has previously worked at ABC News National as well as other major news outlets. She's based in New York City and can be reached at lneporent@medscape.net or @lizzyfit on Twitter.

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