Sometimes the key to stopping racism is knowing to even look for it in the first place.
Ohio State College of Medicine researchers learned members of its medical school admissions team display an unconscious racial bias, according to their study recently published in the journal Academic Medicine.
“We all have these biases we are not aware of. They are deep down in the unconscious,” said Dr. Quinn Capers IV, associate dean for admissions at the College of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Even though they’re unconscious, they can still affect your behavior.”
Capers said this study stems from the racial disparities he sees in health care.
“People of one race with the same exact disease as people of another race get treated differently by our healthcare system,” Capers said. “It’s usually African-Americans and Hispanics that usually get the worst treatment, overall.”
These healthcare disparities are, in part, caused by a specific type of unconscious racial bias called “white preference,” which is the automatic association of “a white face with good things, and a black face with bad things,” Capers said.
Capers and his team mandated that everyone on the College of Medicine admissions committee to take the implicit association test, which measures attitudes and beliefs that people might be unwilling or unable to report, according to the website for Project Implicit, a research group which administers the test.
“Excellence and diversity are aligned. That’s what we’re seeking to advance: inclusive excellence.” — Dr. Leon McDougle, chief diversity officer, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center
Capers and his team administered the test and discussed with the committee about their own unconscious racial preferences.
For example, someone might believe that women and men should be equally associated with sports. However, one’s inherent associations can show that one links men with sports more than women.
Following the test, given prior to the 2012-13 admissions cycle, the College of Medicine attained the most racially diverse class and the its highest average of Medical College Admission Test scores in the college’s history, Capers said.
Dr. Leon McDougle, chief diversity officer of OSU’s Wexner Medical Center and a study researcher, said the correlation between diversity and high test scores made sense.
“Excellence and diversity are aligned,” McDougle said. “That’s what we’re seeking to advance: inclusive excellence. With that, affirming the value and positive impact that diversity has on excellence and innovation.”
McDougle said the long-term impact of this study would involve an increase in diversity among the medical specialities, especially competitive residency and fellowships that focus on metrics. Both McDougle and Capers emphasized the benefit of diversity in medical education and the medical profession.
“People from diverse backgrounds are more likely to serve patients from diverse backgrounds, are more likely to have greater communication satisfaction with the population that they serve, and are also more likely to have a practice where diverse patients live,” McDougle said. “Those types of attributes are more readily determined when a candidate is evaluated holistically.”
Capers added that underrepresented minorities such as Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics, overall, tend to provide more charity care and designate more of their time to disadvantaged patients.
“If we want to be sure that everybody is being cared for, not just people with means, but people facing disadvantage, then we really want to have diversity in medicine,” he said.
Capers said he hopes this study will reach every level of academic medicine in order to reduce unconscious biases.
“The long term outcome of that will not only be more self-awareness among members on the admissions committee, but more diverse medical school classes, which means that we’ll be graduating doctors who are better prepared to care for a diverse America,” he said.