The Need for Anti-Racism Training in Medical School Curricula

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We began medical school in Baltimore months after the death of Freddie Gray, in a grieving city whose confrontation with the violence of racism had sparked protest and conversation across the country. We hoped the same would be true within medicine, and that part of our professional development would include building the capacity to combat the racial injustice that so frequently undermines health.
In the last two years we have learned about health professional implicit bias, cultural competency, and health disparities through our preclinical curriculum. But as others have powerfully documented,1 mere exposure to these lessons is insufficient to create a cohort of medical professionals who can transform understanding into action.
We need to expand our lessons beyond awareness of health inequity: Medical schools must develop, longitudinally reinforce, and evaluate skills that will equip their graduates to combat racism and structural oppression. Furthermore, competency in these areas should be enforced as thoughtfully and rigorously as our traditional clinical training is. Standardization and consistent evaluation of these structural and anti-racist competencies would serve not only to bolster skills and determine the effectiveness of the curriculum but would also signal that such teaching is fundamental, not supplementary, to our role as physicians.2
We recognize we are not proposing an easy task, and we appreciate the commitment that our institution and others around the country have made toward incorporating discussion of social injustice and inequity within their curricula. However, if we do not fully integrate this skill set into the training we provide and ensure our graduates’ competence in this area, we will fail to produce physicians who can truly make a difference in the communities in which they practice.
Physicians have a role in combating racism because it is implicated in the production of illness. There are few other health challenges more important for us to address, and it is well past time to do so.
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