One of the many hats Onye Nnorom normally wears, though not during the pandemic, is that of an on-call family physician working with a service in Toronto. Home visits, she says, often come with the added stress of micro-aggression. Despite always arriving at the patients’ homes with her stethoscope around her neck, she is at times greeted by surprise she is the doctor they are expecting. “I get asked where I went to medical school, where I work and how it must have been hard on me because you have to have high grades, all while trying to examine a family member or child.”
“There is no question that in day-to-day contact Black physicians experience subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination from supervisors, peers and patients,” affirms Dr. Nnorom, who as President of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO), another of her hats, is working to help change that.
The BPAO’s stated mission is to build an active and engaged network of training and practising Black physicians, to provide opportunities for professional development and to improve health outcomes for Black Ontarians. However, Dr. Nnorom (pictured above) says much of the organization’s work also involves advocating for students and physicians faced with anti-Black racism.
Building on the existing relationship between BPAO and MD Financial Management Inc. (MD), MD and Scotiabank in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), recently announced a $1-million commitment over five years to support the work being done by the BPAO as part of the 10-year affinity agreement pledging $115 million to support physicians, students of medicine and the communities they serve across Canada.
“For a very long time we’ve been pouring from an empty cup, but this funding gives us an opportunity to refill our cups, both collectively and in the work that we’re doing,” Dr. Nnorom says.
At the Faculty of Medicine at University of Toronto, the association successfully advocated for a Black student application program to make admissions more inclusive. Black applicants to the school are held to the same admissions criteria, says Dr. Nnorom, adding it is about being more culturally sensitive. Since the program began, the number of Black students enrolling in U of T’s medical school went from six, four or five years ago, to 26 in the most recent enrolment. The BPAO also helped establish a network for Black medical students to provide mentorship and advocate for more equal leadership opportunities.
For the first time in my lived experience it seems like the world is listening and there’s an opportunity for positive change.
—Dr. Onye Nnorom, President of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario
While improving the health outcomes for Black Ontarians has always been a part of the BPAO’s mandate, recently it has had to step up to advocate for the prioritization of Black communities for testing, vaccination and for post-pandemic recovery resources. According to a Statistics Canada report from September 2020 data, Black communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19, with more than three-quarters of Black Canadians saying they would likely not have the vaccine.
“More senior Black physicians have new expectations put on them to advocate for their community, to educate them on the vaccine and provide vaccines in a culturally safe way,” Dr. Nnorom says, noting the affinity grant will help amplify the work they’re doing and address burnout among the physicians doing the work by providing opportunities to come together to network.
“For the first time in my lived experience it seems like the world is listening and there’s an opportunity for positive change. Collectively, we’re exhausted but we’re hopeful for our communities and learners, we are hopeful for the state of health care and change in public health,” Dr. Nnorom says.
“The wellbeing of physicians is a key pillar of the quality of healthcare in Canada and we recognize that more must be done, especially for groups confronting inequities,” says Daniel Labonté, President and CEO of MD. “We are proud to support the work of BPAO and are confident their efforts will help build more inclusive physician communities, and in turn, better the quality of healthcare for all Canadians.”