Let Me Spell It Out: The Impact of Microaggression on the Health Care Professional.

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DOI: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000001082


CASE: Rachel is a 10-year-old White girl with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and a history of trauma who presented for evaluation by Dr. Narayanaswamy, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. A pediatric resident observed the visit with permission from Rachel's parents. During the visit, Dr. Narayanaswamy spoke to Rachel's case manager over the phone to advocate for a trauma-based day treatment program at her school. At the end of the call, the case manager asked the physician for her full name. Dr. Narayanaswamy responded with her name and asked the case manager, "Would you like me to spell it?" At that time, Rachel's father began to laugh, shook his head, and incredulously remarked, "Ugh, yeah you need to spell it." Dr. Narayanaswamy ignored the comment and completed the phone call. After the visit, Dr. Narayanaswamy explained to the resident that the father's derisive laughter was a microaggression. The resident appreciated the observation and, after a pause, asked why she chose not to defend herself when the microaggression occurred. Dr. Narayanaswamy reflected that she had refrained from responding to Rachel's father over concern that he would retaliate by providing low ratings on the post visit patient satisfaction survey sent to all patients who received care at the institution. The granular survey results, comprising ratings in each survey subheading category for each clinician, are made public to members of her division each quarter, and low ratings are scrutinized by the leadership. Dr. Narayanaswamy thought it unfortunate that she felt inhibited in her response because this deprived the resident of observing ways to address microaggressions during an encounter, deprived herself the opportunity to respond directly to Rachel's father, and deprived Rachel from an instructive moment about racial empathy. Dr. Narayanaswamy wrote a letter about the incident to the chief of clinical affairs to inquire what recourse clinicians had in these situations and whether certain patient encounters could be flagged to prevent the post visit patient survey from being automatically sent. The chief responded that the incident was unfortunate and praised Dr. Narayanaswamy's restraint and professionalism but denied her request to have post visit surveys blocked for certain encounters. He shared that if a clinician were to be dissatisfied with a visit satisfaction rating, the clinician could petition for a review, and a committee would subsequently determine whether the review could be removed. How can health care professionals respond to microaggressions while maintaining a therapeutic alliance with the patient/family members and how can institutions support health care professionals in this endeavor?

Journal Title

Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP





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MeSH Keywords

Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity; Child; Family; Female; Health Personnel; Humans; Male; Microaggression


Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity; Family; Health Personnel; Microaggression

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