It’s no secret that racism is associated with negative health outcomes, including high blood pressure and increased inflammation. We also know that Black women are particularly vulnerable during pregnancy due to racism in the health care system.

In November, the American Medical Association (AMA) finally acknowledged racism as a public health threat and committed “to actively work on dismantling racist policies and practices across all of health care,” a policy update following a June declaration by the AMA acknowledging the health consequences of police brutality.  


North of the border, Canadian health officials are taking steps to reduce anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in health care, the latter once more brought to light in a December 1 report released jointly by a group of British Columbia health organizations.

The paper makes 24 recommendations on improving quality of care, including mandatory training on Indigenous-specific racism and colonialism in post-secondary programs for health practitioners. This is after the authors say they uncovered “disturbing” instances of racism and discrimination towards Indigenous patients upon hearing from nearly 9,000 voices, collected through surveys, direct submissions, health care data, interviews from patients and health care workers.

Now, a new commentary appearing this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) is calling on officials to “dismantle anti-Black racism in health care to address its harmful effects on people’s health.”

That includes confronting biases and increasing the representation of Black physicians in Canada.

“First, we who work in health care must acknowledge the existence of anti-Black racism in our systems and commit to meaningful, sustained change,” write Drs. OmiSoore Dryden, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Onye Nnorom, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, co-leads of Canada’s Black Health Education Collaborative.

“We can do this by listening to the voices of Black Canadians, patients, and health care professionals who have been grappling with anti-Black racism for generations, and by engaging with the many communities that have made recommendations for meaningful change to address the problem.”

Recommendations include anti-racism training for health care workers, collecting race-based data, and addressing anti-Black racism in medical schools.

“The field of medicine can no longer deny or overlook the existence of systemic anti-Black racism in Canada and how it affects the health of Black people and communities,” the authors write.

“It is time to acknowledge and commit to dismantling systemic racism within our institutions of care and education.”

It will take a lot of work to tackle anti-Black racism in the Canadian health care system, but there have already been moves in the right direction. 

Enter the University of Toronto (U of T) and Chika Oriuwa, 2020 class valedictorian and the only Black medical student out of 259 graduates.

The lack of representation prompted her to become an advocate and recruiter for the school, and thanks to her work as the U of T’s Black Student Application Program (BSAP) and as a recruiter, the graduating classes of 2022 and 2023 will have 14 and 15 Black students, respectively. 

And the class of 2024 has admitted 24 Black students — the largest in Canadian history — a direct result of Chika’s work.