One strategy was to develop surveys that measure students’ behavior, attitude and comfort level before and after being exposed to unconscious bias. She says the surveys are currently being designed and will likely be conducted next year.
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Explore This IssueMay 2017
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Meanwhile, increasing awareness of unconscious bias among medical students and faculty offers a healthy side effect—reducing health inequities, especially among minority patients.
“Multiple studies have come out on how the perception or biases I have of certain patients can determine how I talk to them and the care I give them,” says Dr. Laurent. “If we don’t make our students aware of that, we won’t provide good care or close the health disparity gap.”
Diversity initiatives for faculty and students must not only continue, but evolve, adds Dr. Burnett-Bowie, who serves in other roles at MGH and Harvard Medical School (HMS). At MGH, she’s also an associate director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and a member of the executive diversity and inclusion committee. At HMS, she is the faculty assistant dean of student affairs.
She says the importance of diversity and inclusion is understood and integral to all functions at MGH ranging from clinical care to community outreach. So much so that human resources and other hospital departments are either developing or have launched diversity initiatives for their own staff. However, the executive diversity and inclusion committee spent the last two years defining cross-fertilization strategies so that all departments can benefit from each other’s efforts.
Still, unconscious bias is a tough topic to address and often creates discomfort for people. She typically begins presentations on the subject by discussing her own biases or blind spots.
“It was and still continues to be something that many people struggle with,” Dr. Burnett-Bowie says, explaining that initially, some people get defensive and are reluctant to believe they can make insensitive comments. “Even if this is a difficult conversation for individuals to have within their respective communities, it’s still critically important. It’s a muscle we need to be exercising far more often.”
Carol Patton is a writer based in Las Vegas.