Medical Education and Diversity

Recently, the medical field has been trying to step outside the physiology of illness in the person, and to look at social contributors to disease. This has entailed modifying curricula in medical schools around the country to include education about socioeconomics, ethics and diversity.

Creighton University School of Medicine has adopted these changes, and through courses like Ethical and Legal Topics in Clinical Medicine and Behavioral Medicine III, the school is aiming to address topics such as systemic poverty and diversity as they relate to healthcare.

In the Behavioral Medicine III course taught in April of the second year, there are classes on how to deal with African-American patients, Latin@ patients, and Gay, Lesbian and Transgender patients. I noticed, however, a lack of discussion on how to deal with the white heterosexual cis-gender patient. I was struck by the “other”-ness of such an approach, which assumes that the latter is the norm or the standard.

I set out to see how this could be amended. My goal, as a start, has been to have a lecture or panel or something about White Privilege.  I first contacted the course director, who told me he would reflect on my concern and also put in me in touch with a professor at the Center for Health Policy and Ethics. I met with that professor and talked to her about White Privilege, cultural competency vs. humility, the state of medical education moving towards addressing diversity issues, and the possibility of including these topics in the Ethics class in the future. She put me in touch with another professor, a physician who also has done extensive research and academic writing on the topic of White Privilege. He provided even more resources on the topic and gave me advice on how to approach the issue with the course director again.

This brought me back to the course director. The course director and I already know each other very well, and he has communicated with me that he would very much like to see this change happen and how important this is. But he also told me that since the course is now finalized it would not be possible to make a change this year. He then recommended speaking to the Director of Medical Education.

The Director was very receptive to what I had to say, and she even mentioned that she thought that there was already a class on this offered during the first two years, or had been in the past, and if not then it should be reintroduced. She said that it wasn’t possible to make a change for this year’s course, but she assured me that this is something that will be further explored. She also said that I can try to schedule something extracurricular, like during a lunch hour. While this may only attract the people who already know about this topic, at least it starts exposure.

I am pursuing this out of my conviction that our medical education about the social settings surrounding the physical body are just as important as the body itself. Ultimately, a holistic approach to each patient that includes knowledge of their physical and social background will lead to better quality care.

Hussein Safa
Creighton Medical School Class of 2017

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