A place to belong
Students lead initiatives to create an anti-racist, inclusive environment at UF College of Medicine
In early August, the UF College of Medicine’s newest crop of future physicians gathered at safe distances and on videoconference to receive their first lessons in medical education. Diversity, inclusion and equity were top of mind for Samari Blair, MPH, and Esther Duqueney, class of 2023 diversity liaisons, whose workshops for the first-year students were intended to spark a lifelong practice of self-reflection and challenging biases.
“At orientation, students heard presentations on implicit bias, microaggressions and LGBTQ+ health disparities, and they worked through cases that challenged their biases and encouraged them to reflect on their beliefs,” Duqueney said. “If students are aware of their biases early in their medical education, they can work toward challenging those biases throughout their medical training.”
In addition to the workshops, Duqueney and Blair, members of their class executive board, work throughout the academic year to cultivate an inclusive environment for their peers by coordinating with the college’s Office for Diversity and Health Equity. They serve as liaisons for students with concerns related to bias, attend student advocacy committee meetings and identify new ways to incorporate topics like diversity, health equity and anti-racism into their medical school curriculum. For Blair, the role is the fulfillment of a passion and an important responsibility.
“I’ve experienced racism throughout my undergraduate studies that made it challenging for me as a Black woman to navigate my journey to medicine,” Blair said. “I want to make a difference so minority students coming after me don’t have to face the same challenges I did.”
Student-led initiatives to create an anti-racist, inclusive environment at the UF College of Medicine are not new, but efforts intensified in the weeks following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May. Fourth-year medical students Brittny Randolph and Marcus Threadcraft led the charge in creating the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, or JEDI, which aims to amplify the perspectives and experiences of Black students and others underrepresented in medicine. Randolph and Threadcraft surveyed Black and other underrepresented students to gather data on what they’ve experienced at the UF College of Medicine and presented their findings to faculty and leadership, along with recommendations for changes to curriculum, methods of evaluation and policies.
“The American Medical Association and others have declared police brutality and systemic racism threats to public health,” Randolph and Threadcraft said in a joint statement. “The JEDI Task Force was created to address the apparent, yet often misunderstood and ignored, racism and biases that exist in health care and society and to identify and develop solutions for the needs and concerns of Black and underrepresented minority students within the UF College of Medicine community.”
Based on feedback from the task force and recent faculty recommendations, each incoming medical student this year read and discussed with faculty members and classmates chapters from “Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century,” a book by Dorothy E. Roberts that examines how the biological theory of race promotes inequality and racism.
“The majority of medical students take it for granted that they learn from faculty members who look like them,” said Donna Parker, MD ’90, associate dean for diversity and health equity and faculty adviser for the JEDI Task Force. “This makes you feel like you belong. If you feel you belong, you’re going to be more successful. Having physicians-in-training gain knowledge about the patients they’ll see and the system in which health care is practiced will allow them to better understand the challenges their Black and minority patients must overcome to gain access to health care. That knowledge will hopefully lead to less bias and more equitable treatment.”
Heather Harrell, MD ’95, associate dean for medical education, and Grant Harrell, MD ’10, assistant professor in the department of community health and family medicine, are working to integrate health systems science, or HSS, throughout the medical curriculum. HSS is the third pillar of medical education, addressing topics like structural and social determinants of health, health disparities, bias and health literacy, which are critical to training thoughtful, community-centered physicians, Heather Harrell said. The plan is to implement a longitudinal program in the next few years that will pair first-year medical students with local families, allowing students to learn firsthand how patients engage with the health system and confront barriers.
“So many factors affect a patient’s outcome when they leave our clinic or hospital, like an inability to afford medication or a lack of transportation,” Heather Harrell said. “This is not something you teach by adding lectures to a curriculum. Rather, it must be experiential. Students need to be involved if they want to help that community.”
On June 5, Interim Dean Joseph A. Tyndall, MD, MPH, along with deans from the colleges of Pharmacy, Dentistry and Public Health and Health Professions, knelt side by side with students, faculty and staff during the White Coats for Black Lives demonstration, showing his shared compassion and concern for the charge of achieving racial equity. In the days since the demonstration, Tyndall has set his sights on opportunities within his own institution to create the kind of equitable and anti-racist environment in which all students, regardless of their background or identity, can flourish.
“We have an opportunity to work closely with our students to develop strategies to reform systems that foster cultural sensitivity, diversity and inclusiveness and promote opportunity,” Tyndall said. “By the very nature of achieving progress here, we will expand the opportunities to do the very things all of us in academic medicine care about — advancing discovery and achieving equity in healthier generations to come.”
This story originally ran in the Fall 2020 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.
More efforts to increase equity at the UF College of Medicine
Below is a list of several efforts initiated over recent years by faculty, students and staff to create an equitable learning environment where every student can feel at home:
- As a result of recruiting efforts by the UF College of Medicine Office of Admissions to build a diverse student body, roughly 30% of current first-year medical students self-identify as underrepresented in medicine.
- Medical students and administration have teamed up to revise the Medical Student Code of Ethics to explicitly commit to addressing social barriers to health, social justice and implicit bias. The revised code is displayed near the first-floor elevators in the George T. Harrell, MD, Medical Education Building.
- The annual Celebration of Diversity Week, spearheaded by the Office for Diversity and Health Equity, brings nationally lauded experts in diversity and representation in medicine to the UF College of Medicine for a week of presentations and interactive activities.
- The Summer Health Professions Education Program introduces high school students of identities underrepresented in medicine or economically disadvantaged backgrounds to the clinical, academic and laboratory environments within UF Health.
- According to 2020 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the UF College of Medicine ranks in the 80th percentile for the percentage of faculty who identify as underrepresented in medicine. Increasing this percentage of faculty, especially during the first two years of medical instruction, has been identified as an opportunity for growth by college leadership. In an effort to increase diversity of faculty, Dennie Jones Jr., MD, a professor in the division of hematology and oncology, transitioned from assistant course director to course director of the first-year cancer biology and clinical oncology course, making him the college’s first African American course director.
- 20% of this year’s Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honors Society inductees are of identities underrepresented in medicine.