A letter of apology

. Tamiko Foster, MD, MPH

The medical community has been part of an institution that has brought both healing and harm. This harm, historically and currently rooted in structural racism, has contributed to distrust between doctors and patients, healthcare systems and communities. Discrimination, conscious and unconscious, hurts, and trauma must be called out.

Yes, we must find a way to move on, but part of moving on is taking accountability, and that calls for an apology. Having tough conversations are critical to reframe the narrative in the hopes of bringing healing and solutions to help everyone attain their highest level of health.

Please forgive me…

Though my intentions are good

I’m part of a system that hasn’t always done what it should

Took an oath to “first do no harm” with all sincerity

Hypocrisy of The Hippocratic

Mission pursued with vague clarity

Though I’m not the oppressor

I’m guilty by association

Thought the skin I’m in made no representation

Of the hurtful actions; we all played a role

And I’ll stand in the gap if they won’t open their mouths

Please forgive me…

For the times I didn’t listen when you tried to tell me what you were feeling

When I thought my years of training mattered more than your explaining

Dismissing concerns, minimizing, or talking over you

What you said didn’t check the box, so it challenged what I thought was true

For not recognizing you as the expert of your own body

For the times I didn’t treat you with kindness

For not apologizing…

For not apologizing…

For not apologizing…

Pride overtaking compassion

Long waits and short visits, with surprise billing

Burnout masking as no empathy

When everything in me cares about you and your situation

Please forgive me…

When I allowed the color of your skin to determine how much I would fight for you

Or let you suffer in pain because society taught us that you were only part humane, or had thicker skin, or that you were only trying to get high

What a lie!

Withholding necessary treatment

Traumatic experimentation

All in the name of science!

Please forgive me…

For the times I labeled you as noncompliant, defiant, without finding out why

$5 copay was too much, 2-hour rides on the bus

Lost to follow up

Late, “no show”

I didn’t know

That you really didn’t understand what I explained to you

Speaking a medical dialect

No interpreters

Then assuming you speak the same language as I do

But I’ve been hurt too!

They see me as they see you

The two letters behind my name giving partial protection

And though we move differently

The shade is being thrown in the same direction

I should have been outraged when your babies died!

Whether at the hands of police or a medical system that seemed to be more fascinated by the number of Black mothers and babies dying than trying to fix the problem

When your loved ones, husbands, brothers and sons

Died by chokeholds and guns

I should have cried with you

But the truth is I do care

I care more about you than you know

Mental replays keeping me awake at night: “did I get it right?” “did I miss something?” “are they gonna be alright?”

Missing out on my own family nights for the sake of practicing this medicine right

The sacrifice of losing a little bit of them to take better care of you… lots of reading, research, prayer

That’s how serious I care for you

Trust never there to be broken

But I’m willing to do what it takes to earn it

We work better together

In this struggle we need each other

I want you to live and not die!

V.I.P., you’re a Very Important Patient to me

There’s more of us for you than against you

So please don’t let the bad few

Give us all a bad name

We’re not all the same

And when you judge the group

We all take the blame

Yes, we’re part of a system rooted in darkness

But most of us are here to bring light

And we shine in all colors: Black, Brown, and White

Excellent health care for ALL is not a privilege it’s a RIGHT

For that I will continue to fight!

Signed, Your Doctor


Please share your stories of how your doctor cares about you. It’s time to reframe the narrative, build trust, and bring healing in our communities.

Tamiko Foster, MD, MPH, is a board-certified pediatrician, medical director at a national health plan, and former Minority Health Policy Fellow at Harvard. Her work has primarily focused on health equity and caring for medically and socially high-risk populations. She previously worked at HCMC, NorthPoint Health & Wellness, and Hennepin Health as their chief medical officer.  She is an author and the founder of the health and wellness company 2 E.D.I.F.Y., LLC. Contact: @ 2edifyllc.com.