Implicit Bias Against Sexual Minorities in Medicine: Cycles of Professional Influence and the Role of the Hidden Curriculum

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Abstract

Despite many recent advances in rights for sexual and gender minorities in the United States, bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people still exists. In this Commentary, the author briefly reviews disparities with regard to LGBT health, in both health care and medical education, and discusses the implications of Burke and colleagues’ study of implicit and explicit biases against lesbian and gay people among heterosexual first-year medical students, published in this issue of Academic Medicine.

Emphasis is placed on the ways in which physicians’ implicit bias against LGBT people can create a cycle that perpetuates a professional climate reinforcing the bias. The hidden curriculum in academic health centers is discussed as both a cause of this cycle and as a starting point for a research and intervention agenda. The findings from Burke and colleagues’ study, as well as other evidence, support raising awareness of LGBT discrimination, increasing exposure to LGBT individuals as colleagues and role models in academic health centers, and modifying medical education curricula as methods to break the cycle of implicit bias in medicine.

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