Discrimination in Medical Education—Another Perspective

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I read with great interest Dr. ­Robert E. Montenegro’s comments in the The ASCO Post, January 25, 2017, where he felt “marginalized” when questioned about his country of origin or the quality of his English. As physicians, we constantly deal in a world of uncertainties and are required to address questionable interactions with self-controlled maturity. 

I consider the statement, “Most people in senior leadership positions in medical schools are white men,” to be a racist comment. Are we to fault Drs. Mayo of the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Crile of the Cleveland Clinic, or Dr. Halsted of Johns Hopkins Medical Center—men who enriched our medical excellence—for being white? These pioneers dedicated their lives to create the exceptional medical centers we train in today, and racism was never an issue.

No matter Dr. Montenegro’s cultural heritage or educational background, he has been given the opportunity to train at an outstanding medical center. His mission as a physician is to concentrate his energies in providing excellent care to his patients, not to squander his energies researching this new political bias of “microaggression.” As physicians, our mission is to heal, not to stir the flames of partisan racism.

As the first osteopathic surgeon to receive a surgical oncology fellowship at Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, at no time during my tenure in training nor as an attending did I experience any prejudice because of my osteopathic background.

I am grateful that my father immigrated to the United States as a young boy in 1915. During World War I, he fought in the trenches of France as an American Doughboy, and his Armenian background helped to enrich this country. 

Whatever talent and skills Dr. ­Montenegro brings to our profession, helping us to unite will always be welcomed. Dividing us by creating illusory offenses contradicts the spirit upon which this nation was founded. Our country’s revered motto, “E pluribus unum”—“Out of many, one”—unites us all. ■

—Richard A. Berjian, DO
Stuart, Florida
Past Senior Cancer Research Surgeon
Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY 
Past Chairman, Department of Surgery
University of Medicine & Dentistry
of NJ/School of Osteopathic Medicine

Editor’s note: Roberto Montenegro, MD, PhD, is currently out of the country, but he plans to reply to Dr. Berjian’s letter in an upcoming issue of The ASCO Post.

Disclaimer: This letter represents the views of the author and may not reflect the views of ASCO.