Black doctors have admitted that they’ve faced racial discrimination while working in hospitals. Among those doctors is Dr. Dare Adewumi, who said that the racial discrimination he faced led to him getting fired and ultimately destroyed his chances of finding a permanent job. He is fighting back.
Adewumi told the Associated Press that his job woes began in March 2018, when he was hired to lead neurosurgery services at Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell, Georgia. While the physician flourished in his practice, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his supervisor was intentionally undermining his skills as a physician and excluding him from the group.
In November 2018, Adewumi started receiving anonymous inquiry letters regarding his surgeries. Inquiry letters can be written by someone from the medical staff or can be from a patient complaint. While they were foreign to him, he received 15 within eight months; colleagues filed all but one. The hospital’s medical executive committee reviewed the inquiries.
The hospital and Adewumi’s lawyers discovered that the concerns had nothing to do with patient safety or cure but somewhat different opinions on his surgical technique. He recalled two cases where white colleagues performed surgeries and left a patient disfigured – yet they never faced any disciplinary action.
“I’ve worked so hard, done so much to get to this level, and all I really wanted to do was help sick people,” he said. “And here I was having this taken away from me for no reason other than my skin color.”
After noticing the alleged discrimination, Adewumi brought his concerns to someone higher up yet was told that it’d be best if he resigned. While the suggestion was unnerving, he didn’t quit. In August 2019, during an action plan check-in meeting, Adewumi was commended for his work but fired two months later due to “certain relationships” not being fostered. He was left unable to complete his action plan for his mentorship.
Adewumi filed a claim against Wellstar Medical Group and Wellstar Health systems, accusing the conglomerate of discrimination based on race. When some of his surgical decisions were questioned, he was placed on a “performance review plan.” The neurosurgeon said that those were pre-determined steps taken towards his termination. Despite having a clean record, the experienced doctor reportedly endured endless scrutiny while his white colleagues didn’t. Wellstar requested that the lawsuit and some of the filings in the case be sealed, to which the judge complied.
“If they don’t like him, that’s one thing, but you can’t penalize someone — according to the law — based on race,” C.K. Hoffler, his lawyer, said. “And that’s the exact thing that happened to Dare. And that’s what many, many highly skilled, highly trained, highly credentialed African American doctors are experiencing in this country.”
William Hill, the attorney for Wellstar Cobb Hospital, claimed Adewumi wasn’t discriminated against and that “Wellstar does not discriminate.”
Before working at Wellstar Cobb Hospital, the brilliant physician had completed fellowships on the brain and spinal tumors and learned complex tasks that other medical professionals in Wellstar’s neurosurgery group couldn’t perform. He also noted that many advanced procedures went to him because of his experience– causing friction between him and his colleagues.
Television shows like Grey’s Anatomy demonstrate how competitive the medical environment is, allowing biases to be magnified. Those discriminatory acts range from microaggressions to severing a career path. While Adewumi is speaking up about his experience, other doctors are intimidated to do so, primarily since Black representation in the medical field is staggering low.
On the Association of American Medical Colleges website, Blacks only made up 5% (45,534) of the U.S. physicians in 2018. During the 2021 – 2022 academic year, only 8.1% of students enrolled in medical schools identified as Black.
“Too many of us are worried about retaliation. What happens when you say something,” President of the National Medical Association, Dr. Rachel Villanueva, said. “We have scores of doctors that are sending us letters about these same discriminatory practices all the time and seeking our help as an association in fighting that.”
Although his case with Wellstar Cobb Hospital is still pending, the neurosurgeon has yet to find employment at another medical facility. He hasn’t received his “letter of good standing” from the hospital, nor will another hospital credential him.