Dr. Ewurabena Simpson Discusses Culturally Respectful Health Care

A conversation with POGO Transitions Counsellor Sarah Brandon and her respected colleague Dr. Ewurabena Simpson.

Dr. Ewurabena Simpson is a staff physician in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at CHEO where she works with childhood cancer patients. She is also the Program Lead for CHEO’s Sickle Cell Disease Program, the Assistant Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, as well as an Assistant Professor. Outside of work, Dr. Simpson is a proud mum and family member, an avid tennis fan and a seriously outstanding soccer player.

Sarah: We know that representation matters. Can you describe what that means for Black patients and their families?

Dr. Simpson: Speaking from my own experience as a patient, having a pediatrician who was also from the Black community had an important impact on the therapeutic relationship that my pediatrician had with me and with my family. Seeing someone from a similar cultural background meant that our pediatrician understood how our skin tone may have changed the way that certain conditions manifested on my complexion and how our cultural background influenced my family’s views on health and learning. It also meant that our family felt safe discussing specific challenges and experiences of subtle or overt racism as we settled into our life in Canada. One of the most lasting impacts that having a Black pediatrician had for me was that it helped me to see myself as a future physician, that I also belonged and that I could make a difference in the lives of all children regardless of their backgrounds.

Sarah: What does culturally respectful health care mean to you and what are 3 goals to strive for?

Dr. Simpson: I don’t think that there is a right answer to this question but in my mind, a commitment to culturally respectful health care would imply that we as healthcare providers will maintain an awareness and openness to others regardless of whether they are similar to or different from ourselves.

Dr. Simpson’s Three Goals for Culturally Respectful Health Care

  1. It is important to acknowledge that we all come from different life experiences and cultural backgrounds that will influence the way that we experience health and access health care.
  2. As healthcare providers, we should be aware that we cannot know everything about another person’s experience.
  3. We should remain humble and open to learning about our patients’ cultural backgrounds and experiences so that we can respond to and support their health needs in a way that is sensitive to and respectful of their culture.

Sarah: What can healthcare providers do in their practice to ensure Black patients feel safe and heard in our care?

Dr. Simpson: With each and every patient, it is important for us to check our personal biases and to be aware of how they may unconsciously influence our daily interactions and our approaches to patient care.  When caring for Black patients, it is important to recognize that being Black does not represent a specific belief system, group of behaviours or any cluster of health attributes. Each patient is an individual and every family is a unique unit. As a healthcare provider, you should treat every patient encounter with an open mind and avoid making generalizations or assumptions that are based on a patient’s racial or cultural background. While being of African or Caribbean descent may be associated with race-based disparities in health, we should always remember that a patient’s health and experiences are shaped by much more than their physical attributes.

Sarah: What is the importance of honouring Black History Month in hematology and oncology as part of the continued fight against racism?

Dr. Simpson: Black History Month is our opportunity to celebrate the ongoing contributions of African, Caribbean and Black communities in Canada. By acknowledging these contributions and these communities in medicine and in hematology/oncology, this inclusion reinforces the fact that we all belong in this community, that we all have a role and that we all have a voice.

Sarah: Do you have a message for our Black childhood cancer survivors this Black History Month?

Dr. Simpson: You have gone through a long and difficult journey to overcome your illness and to get to a place of better health. You are among our champions for childhood cancer and for Black history. You inspire all of us and we hope that you feel cared for and safe in your medical care and in your day-to-day lives. If there are ways that we, as your healthcare providers, can be more supportive and sensitive in your care, we are open to doing better.

While this article was written in recognition of February being Black History Month, POGO recognizes that continually providing culturally respectful health care contributes to our vision of an excellent childhood cancer system. Read POGO’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statement.

Sarah Brandon is a POGO Transitions Counsellor working at CHEO and Kingston General Hospital to empower youth and young adult survivors of childhood  cancer and brain tumours in their transition from high school to post-secondary education or work.

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