Although some have known it for decades, the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought the fact that systemic racism pervades our healthcare system into mainstream conversation. And just as racism influences healthcare outcomes and service delivery, it impacts the experiences and opportunities of healthcare workers.
Yet where I sit in Quebec, our Premier, François Legault, has never acknowledged the existence of systemic racism, even after Joyce Echaquan, a First Nations woman, died at the hands of openly racist hospital staff in September 2020, an event that marked the public and became something like Quebec’s own George Floyd moment. That’s what comes to mind for me when my next guest says that we can’t fix a problem without first recognizing that it exists.
While I feel I understand the reality of systemic racism, I have to reckon with the fact that I only know a handful of black physicians, and know very little of their journey in medicine, their experiences, or their ideas.
A few months ago I read an exciting announcement from McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine about a new Black Candidate Pathway for medical school admissions and a bursary sponsored by the Cadet Family Foundation, and spearheaded by Nicolas Cadet, a graduate of McGill’s medical school, an ophthalmologist, and the first black oculoplastic surgeon in Canada.
After that, Nicolas and I connected over social media. As we exchanged messages and spoke, I saw that he was a passionate, charismatic, ambitious physician and activist, who was deeply committed to improving healthcare both in Montreal’s black community and in his father’s native Haiti, and to tackling the ways systemic racism and marginalization keep young black people out of the healthcare professions.
My conversation with Nicolas allowed me to hear directly from him about the ways he’s experienced racism and discrimination in his training and practice, his ambitions for transforming healthcare, and the moral core that guides him as a physician and person.
Nicolas Cadet is an ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon, or eyelid surgeon, practicing in Montreal. He completed medical school at McGill University, his ophthalmology residency at Université of Montréal, and his fellowship in aesthetic and reconstructive oculofacial plastic surgery as well as orbital and lacrimal surgery at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He is also a philanthropist and social entrepreneur, and the founder of the Cadet Foundation, Oculoplastics Without Limits, and the Alliance of Black Healthcare Professionals of Quebec.
Hearing and learning from Nicolas was a privilege, and felt like the building of a small bridge between our two realities.
-McGill University interview with Nicolas
-Trabian Shorters website and "On Being" interview
-Physician–patient racial concordance and disparities in birthing mortality for newborns, PNAS 2020
Intro essay sources:
-After Echaquan Report, Legault Repeats There Is No Systemic Racism in Quebec, Montreal Gazette