Implicit Racial Bias in Medical School Admissions

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Abstract

Problem

Implicit white race preference has been associated with discrimination in the education, criminal justice, and health care systems and could impede the entry of African Americans into the medical profession, where they and other minorities remain underrepresented. Little is known about implicit racial bias in medical school admissions committees.

Approach

To measure implicit racial bias, all 140 members of the Ohio State University College of Medicine (OSUCOM) admissions committee took the black–white implicit association test (IAT) prior to the 2012–2013 cycle. Results were collated by gender and student versus faculty status. To record their impressions of the impact of the IAT on the admissions process, members took a survey at the end of the cycle, which 100 (71%) completed.

Outcomes

All groups (men, women, students, faculty) displayed significant levels of implicit white preference; men (d = 0.697) and faculty (d = 0.820) had the largest bias measures (P < .001). Most survey respondents (67%) thought the IAT might be helpful in reducing bias, 48% were conscious of their individual results when interviewing candidates in the next cycle, and 21% reported knowledge of their IAT results impacted their admissions decisions in the subsequent cycle. The class that matriculated following the IAT exercise was the most diverse in OSUCOM’s history at that time.

Next Steps

Future directions include preceding and following the IAT with more robust reflection and education on unconscious bias. The authors join others in calling for an examination of bias at all levels of academic medicine.

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