When Tiffani J. Johnson, M.D., FAAP, was a pediatric resident working in the neonatal
intensive care unit, a family came in every day, and she would update them on how
their baby was doing. After about four or five days, the father asked her, “Do you
have something against men?”
Taken aback, Dr. Johnson said she did not and asked why he thought that. He replied:
“I’m here every day with my wife, and you always make eye contact with her and explain
to her what’s going on and ask her if she has questions, and it’s as if I’m not even
in the room.”
Dr. Johnson called it an “aha moment.”
“I think I had just been habituated to think that men have no idea of what’s going
on in the lives of their children, and it’s a waste of time to even ask them questions,”
Dr. Johnson said. “But I was doing it automatically and unconsciously without realizing
That encounter is an example of implicit bias or the unconscious attitudes we have
toward another person, group or idea, she said. The most common biases are based on
an individual’s race or ethnicity.
Dr. Johnson and Joseph L. Wright, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, will discuss how racial biases
can affect the health and well-being of children and strategies to counter those biases
during a seminar titled “Addressing the Impact of Racism on Child Health and Development:
Supporting Children, Families, and Providers (S4085)” from 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov.
Dr. Wright is chair and Dr. Johnson is a member of the AAP Task Force on Addressing
Bias and Discrimination. Part of its charge is to develop educational opportunities
for pediatricians and trainees on bias and effective strategies to promote inclusion
“For many of us, this is a pretty steep learning curve,” said Dr. Wright, senior vice
president and chief medical officer of the University of Maryland Capital Region Health.
“I am truly hoping that this session creates a platform upon which we can build for
more interactive sessions going forward. … This is not a one-shot deal by any stretch.”
During the session, Drs. Wright and Johnson will define racism and how a child might
experience implicit and explicit racism. Then, they will review the literature on
how bias and discrimination can impact children’s health and well-being in multiple
domains, including the criminal justice, education and health care systems.
“One of the big take-home messages is that we want pediatricians to recognize that
they have implicit bias and to understand the impact of their bias on the health and
health care of children,” said Dr. Johnson, assistant professor of pediatrics, Children's
Hospital of Philadelphia.
The pair also will discuss strategies attendees can use to recognize and reduce their
Dr. Johnson acknowledges that her bias regarding dads hasn’t changed.
“I still don’t necessarily think fathers always know what’s going on with their kids,”
she said. “But … whenever there are two parents in the room, because of that moment,
I’m able to stop and pause and look at dad and make that sure I’m interacting with
him with my verbal and nonverbal communication, make sure that I ask some questions,
make sure that he understands.”