Monthly Archives: February 2016

Seeking Diversity and Inclusion in Medical Education

In our second blog piece for 2016 we hear from Mala Joneja, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine. In her piece, Dr. Joneja explores the significance of promoting diversity in medical education.

Medical education is looking for diversification. In other words, there is a move to ensure that the students who are studying to become physicians, are as diverse as the population they are going to serve when they graduate. The Queen’s University School of Medicine has a diversity statement that emphasizes the positive impact and enrichment to medical education that is provided by promoting diversity. This positive change in the traditional education of professionals is now visible in many areas ranging from accreditation standards at councils to outreach efforts by medical students to local community high schools. In theory, physicians who come from diverse backgrounds, and study alongside other students from diverse backgrounds, will be better able to empathize and relate to patients of all backgrounds. To confirm what is intuitive to educators, studies in the medical education literature have demonstrated that a diverse medical student class does indeed produce better doctors.

I don’t remember hearing about diversity when I was a medical student. I do remember worrying about fitting into the medical culture. I look back and think what did ‘fitting in’ to a training environment have to do with the actual training. In fact, it has a lot to do with the ultimate success of the training. Medical trainees need support, role models and a comfortable learning environment. Inclusion is a big part of creating this comfortable learning environment. The accounts of exclusion in medical education, and the effects of such experiences, are not only eye-opening but also lessons for future directions in medical education, such as the acknowledgement of the importance of diversity.

The move to bring diversity to medical education influences all spheres of the educational institution and can be described as similar in framework to the principles of educational inclusion listed in the Diversity and Equity Assessment and Planning (DEAP) Tool manual. (To see the 12 Indicators of Educational Inclusion, please refer to the Diversity and Equity Assessment and Planning (DEAP) Tool manual.) Included in these indicators are a few key areas being addressed in medical education, namely admissions and curriculum. These are two areas which have been widely written about in the medical education literature and represent examples connecting diversity and inclusion.

By addressing admission to medical school as a point to promote diversity, educators are attempting to not only diversify the medical school class but also aiming to break down barriers. Getting into medical school requires high academic performance, a fact that is known to everyone. However, achieving high academic performance and other criteria, comes to those who have opportunities, support and guidance. For students from historically disadvantaged groups such as lower socio-economic status and Aboriginal background, opportunities as well as resources for support, have not always been available. By taking this into account, medical schools can work toward actively recruiting members from these groups into their medical school classes, eventually increasing the number of practicing physicians from these backgrounds.

By addressing diversity in the curriculum, in other words making sure physicians are trained to treat patients from all walks of life and backgrounds, medical schools are enhancing more than just the education of physician. This in itself is a profound statement of inclusion from the medical profession, that can be distilled down to: we are going to give excellent care to everyone, taking into account peoples histories, cultures and situations.

As a physician and medical educator I see that diversity and inclusion in medical education are absolutely necessary. As a physician I have learned that connecting with patients enhances one’s ability to provide the best medical care. As an educator, I want our students to have a safe learning environment and also see that the profession that they have chosen acknowledges the diversity of the world we live in as well as the range of human experience.

When asked by an accreditation panel what diversity means to me, in relation to the school of medicine, I had to say – in one word – INCLUSIVE. Perhaps it is not obvious that the promotion of inclusivity is a direct consequence of promoting diversity. In any case, even if it is seen as a ‘side effect’, it is a positive thing.

Medical education is looking for diversification, and what it has found is inclusion.