Doctors call systemic racism ‘public health crisis’ during ‘White Coats for Black Lives’ march

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hundreds of health care workers and medical students rallied Wednesday evening outside Sydney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

The “White Coats for Black Lives” movement began with a single text message, organizers said, and also aims to raise awareness of systemic racism within the medical community.

The movement is not affiliated with the hospital, Indiana University Health or any medical program.

Doctors, nurses, residents, students, technicians and other hospital employees marched with their white coats turned inside out to conceal their professional affiliations.

Some protesters covered logos on their coats with black tape.

Jai Horsey, a medical science student from Maryland, wore his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity shirt instead of a white coat.

He felt “numb” when he watched bystander video that captured the last moments of Floyd’s life in police custody, he said.

“I have to look at myself every time I walk out of the house and be so vigilant of everything, even walking form my car to here,” Horsey told News 8.

The aspiring neurosurgeon wrote his mother’s cell phone number on his forearm in case anything happened to him.

He carried a homemade sign with a three-word message that matched the handwriting on his left arm: “AM I NEXT?”

The black poster board was decorated with splatters of red paint.

“[When I ask, ‘Am I next?’] ‘I’ is not just me. It’s every person who looks like me,” Horsey said. “My life could be over. My nephew’s. My father’s.”

He had feared getting pulled over by police while driving from Maryland to Indiana to attend graduate school, he said.

Justin Hendrix, a medical school student, said he could “write a book” about his various experiences with racial inequality in higher education.

“[There is] systemic racism, even in the hospitals,” he told News 8. “When I’m trying to connect with residents and doctors, sometimes it’s harder for African Americans.”

Implicit bias has contributed to racial disparities in health care, according to experts.

One doctor told the crowd he recently caught himself making a clinical decision shaped by implicit bias; the crowd cheered when he described how he reversed course and altered his treatment plan after he became aware of his biases.

Another health care worker declared systemic racism a public health crisis.

“I can tell you that, unequivocally, kneeling on a person’s neck is a health problem,” she said.

The White Coats for Black Lives march ended peacefully Wednesday night.