More Black medical specialists are needed to serve the population: expert

dr.cadet

Dr. Nicolas Cadet is unique in his field.

He is the only Black ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon, a surgeon of the eyes and eyelids, in Canada. Cadet said he sees the same pattern throughout the medical specialist fields.

"It's very rare to see surgeons or specialists who are Black," said Cadet. "It's even more infrequent to see someone doing a subspecialty."

Watching the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movements evolve in 2020, he increased his efforts to advocate for young Black medical students to enter specialties or subspecialties like his.

"We absolutely need Black physicians in way more different specialties, but there are very few of us," he said.

Excellence Quebec is an organization founded in 2016 that recognizes those who promote diversity and strengthen "the economic capacity of visible minorities."

On Monday, Cadet was recognized along with 14 other Black business, finance and IT professionals.

In 2018, Excellence recognized president and founder of Purkinje Inc. Marie-Anne Carignan, who runs a health-care information technology company that develops and markets software to help doctors, clinics and other health-care professionals.

Carignan, like Cadet, finds herself unique, working both as a woman and a Black person in a specialized field.

"First of all, (there are) not a lot of women because it's a STEM business, so usually it's just men," said Carignan.

In hospitals among nurses and general practitioners, it is common to see a diverse workforce in Quebec, but the same cannot be said for specialized fields.

"In health-care in general, you see a lot of different people; it's very multicultural," said Carignan.

But it's not multicultural in a balanced way, she said.

"In terms of business, if I go to a conference where I'm speaking to other people, no. You don't see a lot of people of colour. It's changing slowly," she said.

"It's very rare to see a head nurse in a hospital who's Black, but meanwhile there are so many Black nurses."

The skewed numbers do a disservice to patients, she said.

"When we look at the percentage of the general Canadian or American population, there are really too few Black doctors compared to the general population," said Cadet.

Marjolaine Merisier is a nurse and operates the Instagram account blackowned.mtl. In both her profession as a nurse, and while running the account, she sees firsthand the need for Black and other people of colour to own clinics and join specialty fields.

"There are not enough Black health-care workers that own clinics or who are in specialties," she said. "When you talk to somebody who's the same nationality as you and speaks the same language, you feel more comfortable."

Carignan gave the example of early heart attack studies, which focused mainly on white males in the beginning but changed to include women and other races, which helped save lives later because doctors could identify more symptoms.

"There are some illnesses that are highlighted or more pervasive in different cultures, so it's good to have that input," said Carignan.

"The more diverse ideas you have, the better you are because you cover more areas. Especially when it's in health-care. The second word is what's key: care. We're caring for a diverse population, so it's good to have diverse points of view."

"When you think about it," Cadet said, "how can you treat someone optimally when you don't understand their culture, language or how they express their pain and fears? If you don't understand them, you can't treat them optimally."

During the pandemic, the point has been only further highlighted as the virus has hit Black and other minority communities harder due to a number of factors, including occupation.

"If you look at how many workers who work in a nursing home are people of colour, you just multiply it from there, so the case is easily made," said Carignan.

Cadet pointed to aspects of medical school admissions processes which decrease the numbers of Black and minority doctors in specialized fields.

"The whole admission process in medicine is not made to accept Black people, period," he said.

"The few Black people who make it into medicine don't actually make it into specialty training because it's very difficult, very competitive."

BLACK LIVES MATTER

Cadet started the Alliance of Black Healthcare Professionals of Canada (ABHPC) in August to promote and advocate for Black professionals in the industry.

"There is a lot of expertise within our community that we just don't know about," said Cadet. "Although when we look at the level of specialization, whether it be law, medicine or business or any other field, there should be a lot more of us per capita."

Carignan said the Black Lives Matter movement offered an opportunity for all people to grow and learn and should not be used to exclude anyone.

"Sometimes people confuse it with 'no other lives matter,'" said Carignan. "It's basically saying that there's an issue here, and this is to open the cupboard and see what the issues are. It does not take away from any other lives. It, in fact, adds to it. It should also be inclusive."

Carignan said it's important to shine a spotlight on who is suffering from injustice regardless of race, ethnicity, or other factors.

Carignan said her company promotes communication as a core principle and has found the movement freed people to speak about injustice and other issues.

"In the talking comes understanding, and with understanding comes change," said Carignan.

"I think the discussion is good because with the discussion comes change... I think we should talk about it and keep talking about it and make it quite inclusive. It really is about equality and a balance."

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