Thinking with two brains: Student perspectives on the presentation of race in preclinical medical education

Med Educ. 2020 Dec 23. doi: 10.1111/medu.14443. Online ahead of print.


CONTEXT: There is growing concern that during their education medical students come to believe that “race” is a biological construct and that differential treatment of patients based on “race” is clinically beneficial. How “race” is presented to medical students may influence both their implicit biases and future clinical practices, potentially widening racial disparities in care.

METHODS: We conducted in-depth interviews with twenty-two preclinical mostly non-white medical students attending a public medical school in a major metropolitan area in the northeastern United States. Interview content focused on how medical students experience the presentation of race in medical education, use race in their learning experiences, and envision using race as physicians in future clinical encounters. Transcripts were analyzed using the framework method and emergent themes were identified.

RESULTS: Participants described being most aware of the presentation of race in board-style questions and least aware of the presentation of race during lectures. They described being aware of race in problem-based learning (PBL) modules if the case revolved around a likely race-disease association. They identified imprecision in how race was presented during lectures and insufficient explanations of causes of racial disparities in health. Participants described feeling ill-prepared to obtain racial self-identification and receiving mixed messages around the utility of race in diagnosing a patient. Participants reported experiences of cognitive dissonance around the presentation of race in board-style questions and lectures.

CONCLUSIONS: Critical evaluation of the presentation of and instruction around “race” is needed to address whether it is presented as a biological vs. social construct, the level of precision of racial categorization in curricular content, and the causes of and mechanisms behind race-disease associations. This has the potential to minimize false beliefs about race as a biological construct and the resultant negative impacts on clinical care. Future research could evaluate whether problem-based or experiential (OSCE) learning, in contrast to board-style questions and didactic lectures, are the most effective way to educate students around race in health and illness. Additionally, future research can investigate if the mission (i.e. social) and composition (Predominantly White Institution or Historically Black College/University) of the faculty impacts student experiences of the presentation of race.

PMID:33354809 | DOI:10.1111/medu.14443