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An update on medical schools' work to tackle racism and inequality

9.06.20

Medicine is a caring profession in which inequality, racism and discrimination should play no part. Yet, consistently, they do. Within universities, racism damages confidence, affects learning and feeds the award gap throughout university and beyond.

Black lives should matter to every individual and every medical professional. Racial discrimination is a key social determinant of health and driver of racial and ethnic health inequities. It adversely affects medical professionals and has a detrimental impact on the health of minority groups, for example, black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women in the UK.

Fostering supportive learning environments in which every student can thrive is critical to tackling such inequalities. Medical schools can play a key role in driving change by actively challenging racism and dismantling inequalities where they are found to exist.

The following work streams are currently underway to improve black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) student outcomes:

  1. Supporting medical schools to create an inclusive environment

We are supporting a group of medical school staff and students to create best practice indicators on how medical schools can embed equality, diversity and inclusion across the whole of the work that medical schools do. This work is practical and will give medical schools ideas for concrete actions they can take on subjects including:

  • Diversifying curricula by ensuring that representation of diverse patient and student groups and challenging stereotypes are covered
  • Advice on how to implement interventions for staff and students such as reverse mentoring and bystander training
  • Improving reporting systems and ensuring student complaints of racial harassment are handled appropriately and sensitively

Throughout this work we will listen to students, both by having them involved in developing this work but also by testing what we produce with groups of students from minority groups from medical schools across the UK.

  1. Tackling the award gap

The Medical Schools Council has a work plan in place to work with medical schools to support them to identify their award gap and to share best practice in how to reduce it. Research has shown that the culture of learning environments is key to understanding the award gap and in many ways the work we are supporting on EDI will also support this aim.

What is evident is that universities and students need to come together to create more opportunities to talk and learn about racism and the award gap. It is of vital importance that universities send a clear institutional message that issues of race will be dealt with as part of wider, strategic organisational practice.

While we are encouraged by the fact that many medical students and staff are firm advocates for equality, we recognise that this is a very difficult time for some who will be feeling particularly affected by the events of the past days. Medical schools must support their students and staff by directing affected individuals to places in which they can access proper pastoral support.

Since launching the Selecting for Excellence project in 2013, medical schools have come a long way in widening participation in medicine. Removing barriers has helped to build a medical profession which is now more diverse and representative of the communities it serves. However, this must not inspire complacency and medical schools must go further in ensuring that all students are able to thrive at university, whatever their background. We will continue to use every effort to break down barriers within medical schools and ensure that we are taking a proactive role in tackling racism, discrimination and inequality.

 

Notes: 

1. This work will be carried out in collaboration with the Dental Schools Council in recognition of the importance of the work to wider health faculties. The Dental Schools Council is the principle voice of informed opinion and advice on all matters concerning dental education and research in dental schools in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

 

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