The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), a nonprofit organization focused on academic medicine, recently announced the third report in a series on competencies for building diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) in medical education and patient care.
“AAMC has been committed to advancing DEI for many years, and the resurgence of racial justice in the country has made this work even more relevant and timely,” said Kamilah Weems, director of strategic initiatives and partnerships in medical education at AAMC. “We have heard from students and educators that there is a need for DEI efforts in medical schools and in healthcare.”
dr. Joseph Betancourt, senior vice president of equities and community health at Massachusetts General Hospital, noted that the evidence is “undoubtedly clear” that bringing individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds into medicine “remains a major problem.” Studies have also shown that patients receive a better quality of care when their caregivers are more diverse.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are a critical element in any educational setting,” added Dr. David Henderson, associate dean of multicultural and community affairs, as well as professor and chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Connecticut. “And I think it’s especially important in medical education because the goal is to produce a workforce that meets the health care needs of a population — and that population is becoming more and more diverse.”
The AAMC report divides each competency — Diversity, Equivalence, and Inclusion — into three levels that reflect the different stages of a physician’s career path.
The first level addresses competencies for someone who is going to be a resident or has recently completed medical training. The second focuses on doctors who are starting an independent practice or who have recently graduated from a residency. And the last part focuses on experienced faculty physicians responsible for educating students or residents.
“The competencies are organized in such a way that we really ask the physician to start with themselves,” added Weems, who highlighted the report’s strategies to address bias in patient care. “We all have prejudices, and how can we reduce those prejudices? Regardless of how the patient presents, how do they understand that person’s demographics and intersecting identities? And how do they control their own personal bias to provide culturally relevant care with cultural humility?”
The competencies of the AAMC report are designed to help educators design or adapt curricula to support students and educators on their DEI journeys. According to AAMC, one use could be to launch more robust DEI discussions with healthcare professionals.
Henderson added that the report’s call for anti-racist content is key to medical education, pointing to the history of discrimination against patients and providers of different races. He also said that these competencies mainly recognize intersectionality.
“We carry more than one identity within us,” Henderson said. “And different aspects of our identity emerge in different environments. Having that awareness in educational settings is very important to promote inclusion, because none of us are just one identity.”
Betancourt agreed that such DEI work like the AAMC report is a critical step. For him, the question now is how institutions and educators put this into practice in a meaningful way. But he said he is hopeful given the increased national talks on this pressing topic.
“We’ve been trying to bring more and more attention to DEI issues for decades — and what I think is missing is the kind of real rigor of execution,” he said. “By that I mean we’ve been heavy on aspirations and light on execution. In each of those areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, we must be rigorous with real strategies, timelines, milestones and accountability. The past two years have created the environment and culture for us to tackle this once and for all like we’ve never done before.”
Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected]