Understanding and dismantling structural racism within organizations with Dr. Ruth S. Shim
Ruth S. Shim, MD, MPH, joins Carol A. Bernstein, MD, to discuss how to understand systemic racism within psychiatric institutions and the implications for patient care.
Dr. Shim is the Luke & Grace Kim Professor in Cultural Psychiatry in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis. She has no disclosures.
Dr. Bernstein, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, is vice chair for faculty development and well-being at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. She has no disclosures.
- Dr. Shim discusses her editorial published by statnews about why she left the APA, and describes her frustration about what she sees as the APA’s failure to prioritize mental health inequity and structural racism within the organization.
- Dr. Shim describes systemic racism and oppression as generational traumas that must be recognized and processed if our professional organizations and country are to move forward with equity. Psychiatry plays a role in healing societal trauma, so psychiatrists need to understand and address the damage of structural racism in our own system.
- After psychiatry training, Dr. Shim became faculty at Morehouse School of Medicine, one of the few historically Black medical schools. During her clinical work in Atlanta, Dr. Shim noted the difference in health outcomes of inpatients at Emory University Hospital, which treated majority White patients, compared with those of Grady Memorial Hospital, which treated majority Black patients. This observation propelled her research into health disparities, which continues to inform her academic work.
- Dr. Shim’s decision to leave the APA occurred during the presidential term of Altha J. Stewart, MD, who, even as the first African American president of the organization, was thwarted in her attempt to push the APA to focus attention and resources on addressing mental health disparities, inequity, and systemic racism within the organization and psychiatry, according to Dr. Shim.
- Dr. Shim observes that systemic racism occurs when the structures of an organization, not individuals, perpetuate the inequity. An example within the APA is the disconnect and power disparity between the group’s executive leadership structure and its elected officials. This disconnect and power disparity stymie progressive voices and interventions, Dr. Shim said.
- Addressing systemic racism within an organization is challenging because it may not be considered a problem by all members, and usually the leadership of an organization caters to its majority. As an example, Dr. Shim discussed the APA’s systematic attempt to reduce resources and cancel the Mental Health Services Conference (formerly Institute for Psychiatric Services, or IPS meeting), which focuses on health care delivery to the most vulnerable populations. As observed by Dr. Bernstein, the IPS meeting might have incurred financial losses, but investment in such a meeting demonstrated the APA’s concern for mental health equity. (The Mental Health Services Conference was not held in 2020 but is scheduled to be held virtually Oct. 7-8, 2021).
Shim RS and Vinson SY, eds. Social (In)Justice and Mental Health. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2021.
Shim RS. Structural racism is why I’m leaving organized psychiatry. Statnews.com. 2020 Jul 1.
Marmot M et al. Lancet. 2008 Nov 8;372(9650):1661-9.
Okun T. White supremacy culture. Dismantlingracism.org.
APA apologizes for its support of racism in psychiatry. psychiatry.org. 2021 Jan 18.
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Show notes by Jacqueline Posada, MD, associate producer of the Psychcast; assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University in Washington; and staff physician at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates, also in Washington. Dr. Posada has no conflicts of interest.
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