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RANZCO criticised for response to racism claims

14/11/2018By Myles Hume
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RANZCO should apologise to Australia’s sole Indigenous ophthalmologist for its “callous disregard” for the racism he described in a column for Insight, signatories in an open letter to the college have said.

The November 6 letter, signed by a group of 37 health professionals, academics, and members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, has attacked RANZCO’s response to an opinion piece by Dr Kristopher Rallah-Baker concerning the need for more Indigenous ophthalmologists.

Following the publication of the group’s open letter on Croakey.org, senior college representatives are now planning to meet Rallah-Baker at this weekend’s RANZCO Scientific Congress “with the intention of working together for a better future”.

Rallah-Baker’s September Soapbox column sparked debate after he highlighted the severe under-representation of Indigenous people in his field of work and the need for improved cultural competency training. He also described experiences of “racism, degradation, training delays, bullying, harassment and racial vilification” while training to become an ophthalmologist.

RANZCO CEO Dr David Andrews responded in a letter to the editor published in November’s issue of Insight, which denied Rallah-Baker’s claims and outlined work the college was doing to attract Indigenous doctors to ophthalmology.

In the latest development, an open letter was published online and sent to the RANZCO board, president, president-elect and Andrews, branding his response dismissive and undermining.

“Dr Rallah-Baker, as a Fellow of your College, and as President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, knows only too well the realities of racism in the health system from professional, personal and policy perspectives,” the open letter stated.

“His insightful and forthright statement of facts provided an opportunity for RANZCO to realise the vision of The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (2013–2023) of ‘a health system free of racism’. Unfortunately, in the editorial response provided by CEO Dr David Andrews, Dr Rallah-Baker’s experiences were discounted and dismissed without investigation.”

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The letter called on the RANZCO board and CEO to provide an unreserved apology “for its callous disregard of his experiences of racism and bullying and the attempt to publicly undermine his integrity and commitment to his profession and his people.”

It continued: “We write this public letter, not at his request or initiation, but to stand in solidarity with him, and to let you know your responses have no place in a modern Australia, will have no positive impact on the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, nor will it positively influence the thousands of health professionals in Australia and New Zealand who could use this as a ‘teachable moment’ in how to respond to and address racism in the health system.”

The letter also stated Rallah-Baker’s experiences should not have been “so swiftly dismissed” given RANZCO failed to meet 15 standards in its 2016 Australian Medical Council (AMC) Accreditation Report. The report indicated the college needed to urgently address its appeals policy and complaints procedures, along with issues of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment in its training program.

Asked to respond to the letter, a RANZCO spokesperson said: “Senior representatives of the college will be meeting Dr Rallah-Baker this week in order to listen to his perspectives and invite a dialogue, with the intention of working together for a better future.”

Rallah-Baker has declined to comment until after the meeting with RANZCO representatives.

 

More reading:

RANZCO urged to apologise to first Indigenous ophthalmologist
RANZCO completes mandated policy reviews

 

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