Opinion: You can’t tell a book by its cover — or a disease by Drake’s race

Diagnoses based on race are wrong on many levels.
A diagram of rapper Drake's parents is no way to study disease diagnosis. Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In my first year of medical school, I walked into a study room to find a Venn diagram on the whiteboard. Underneath the title “Diseases Drake is at Risk for Developing” floated two intersecting circles, subtitled “Black Daddy” and “White Jewish Mommy.”

Drake is the multimillion-dollar rapper with the most charted songs for a solo artist in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. But on this whiteboard, he’s just a man with a Black Daddy and a White Jewish Mommy. What struck me was how crudely a hypothetical patient had been reduced to his race.

The diagram hadn’t been drawn — the brutal, nine-hour assessment that medical students must take before graduation. One of the time-saving tricks we learn is to associate race with disease. A black child under 10 years old? Sickle cell disease. An Asian patient with weak pulses? Takayasu’s vasculitis. Urban man of color? Think drug use or violent trauma. A Mexican patient with gastrointestinal distress? Parasites from contaminated water. A white newborn that hasn’t passed meconium? Bet on cystic fibrosis.

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