News » Students, Faculty Set Sights on Addressing Race and Culture in Curriculum

Students, Faculty Set Sights on Addressing Race and Culture in Curriculum

Students at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) are leading the way when it comes to medical school curriculum improvement as it pertains to race and culture.

In the fall 2018, in response to student feedback, the Committee on Undergraduate Medical Education Curriculum recommended the school formed a task force consisting of about a dozen students and SMHS faculty members with the goal of implementing programs to continue to improve the curriculum.

“I think GW is really trying to listen to students and opening a lot of avenues where they incorporate student feedback,” said second-year student Rose Milando, a member of the task force.

It was decided that the task force would be led by faculty involved in medical education and curricular oversight, said Grace Henry, EdD ’12, director of SMHS Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) and adjunct assistant professor of medicine at SMHS, because, she said, “while it is specifically about diversity, it is first a curricular issue, more than it is a diversity issue.”

David Leitenberg, MD, PhD, associate professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at SMHS, chair of the preclinical curriculum committee, was asked to be the chair of the task force. However, ODI was still an integral part of the process.

Henry said she often gets feedback from students on ways the curriculum can be improved, and to have the chance to take these actions is incredibly important.

“I like being part of a leading organization, I want us to be known as a leader in diversity and inclusion,” she said. “I think we have a great opportunity to do something grand, and I think taking a bold and brave step in diversity is what we’re positioned to do.”

Initially, the task force looked to incorporate evidence-based guidelines from Aquifer, a nonprofit that creates virtual patient cases used by 95 percent of MD-granting medical schools in the United States, into SMHS-specific guidelines for medical faculty members. Aquifer recently updated its cases, with help from Milando and Katherine Chretien, MD, associate dean for student affairs and professor of medicine at SMHS, to ensure they reflected race and culture in an appropriate way. The cases, while regularly updated for medical content, said Chretien, did not reflect contemporary best practices regarding race and culture.

Chretien, who serves as a student engagement lead at Aquifer, worked to get students involved in the organization because she said she realized the importance of their voices in helping to shape curriculum. She also was a member of the task force, offering ideas on how the Aquifer checklist could be incorporated into guidelines for SMHS faculty.

“It reflects our mission and the kinds of students we have here who are interested in advocating for patients and health disparities,” she said. “I think it’s really commendable that we’re leading the way in this area.”

Leitenberg said the guidelines created are “to encourage faculty when they include a racial identifier or cultural identifier when teaching, to make sure it avoids stereotypes and avoids encouraging explicit and implicit bias. And when you’re using examples of patients from different social or racial backgrounds, to do in it in a way where that information is included with an educational purpose.”

The task force also added questions that address race and culture to course evaluations, so students can have a place where they can address any issues, added Milando.

In addition, ODI will create a student liaison advisory committee, Henry said. She envisions a monthly meeting with a representative from each MD class who can provide feedback and use guidelines to discuss issues or improvements for courses.

“We want students on the advisory council to really think about it,” she said. “And ask them ‘how do you advise that we work in this issue?’ I think it’s going to be very important that we are constantly positioning ourselves to hear students.”

Leitenberg added that these kinds of actions are important for any school, and that the guidelines “plant seeds early in student education to make them aware of the importance of these issues in health care, as well as to promote reflection by the faculty to encourage awareness and treat these issues with the appropriate respect and care.”