Minority Like Me
When I was in college, a professor allowed the class to grade each other's quizzes. As I was grading this student's quiz, I asked the professor whether the student's answer was correct or not since we did not receive any answer key. The professor told me, "don't worry, Max is a good student". From her tone, I can tell she did not think I was smart enough. After that incident, I realized there is significant difference in treatments between Caucasian students and students from minority groups. This treatment also exists in health care.
Majority of drugs in America only work on Caucasians due to narrow selection in ethnicity during clinical trial. I have studied biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry at San Francisco State University. One of the topics that we have discussed in class is a clinical trial for a new drug. Clinical trials are the process of testing whether the new drug is safe and effective against specific disease or condition. It includes direct interaction with a selected population of individuals, who are eligible for the condition being targeted, administering the developed treatment, and monitoring their condition over time. Most of the drugs on the market have been tested in clinical trials with a narrow set of individuals, Caucasian males between twenty to fifty years of age. Therefore, majority of approved drugs only work for male Caucasians. This piece of information has started a very intended debate within the cohort about ethnicity of selected patients for the trial and what it implies about the health care for minority groups.
This problem is also thoroughly addressed in the iBiology video Background To Breakthrough with Dr. Esteban Burchard, who is Latino but has three racial groups in his genetic ancestry: Native American, African, and European. The video voids a concern of how patients can be misdiagnosed, over diagnosed or not benefit from modern medical treatment at all due to oversimplified racial declaration in medical process. Dr. Burchard gives an example of one patient who identifies himself as half African American and Caucasian. And the medical decision is determined depending on what racial group that he is in. If he is African American, he is not qualified for the treatment; but if he is Caucasian, he will be. This is a powerful example, because it illustrates how significant racial identification can affect the patient’s health care and even life and death situation. And it is alarming that the medical decision of patients with mixed races is determined by biased technicians.
I think the process of drug testing in United State needs a lot of improvement. Patient selection is the first one. Our world is too diverse, so is the treatments for diseases. It is not practical to choose only male Caucasians for clinical study when the disease affects each individual differently. Therefore, the selected pool of testing patients should include females, African American, Asian American or Hispanic.
The video also describes racial challenges for scientists in minority groups. Dr. Burchard mentions when he applied for his residency at Harvard Medical School, a physician told him that he did not have the right cultural background because his parents were not doctors. But he worked through the challenges and graduated from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s hospital. And the physician sent him a written apology on his graduation. The message is strong for any student from minority groups. As long as, they have the will and confidence in themselves, they can accomplish anything.
As an Asian American, I can relate to the cultural challenges that Dr. Burchard has described. In my high school year, one of the counselors said she would be surprised if I passed the California High School Proficiency Examination to graduate high school. Even though, I did not receive the written apology like Dr. Burchard, but just like him, I worked hard to achieve what I want in life. And constantly reminding myself that I can accomplish a lot with confidence and determination. Of course, I passed my exam and graduated high school. When I got back to the counselor office to discuss my college plan, the counselor said that I surprised her with my test result. Now starting my Master’s program in biomedical science, I continue my journey in discovering science and constantly fight against prejudice, presumption and stereotype against my ethnicity. But I will not stop trying just because somebody tells me that it cannot be done, for the real battle is within the mind.