We’re here, but are you listening?

Recent acknowledgement of America’s systemic racism and police violence, resulting protests and demonstrations, impact all of us, but disproportionately, they impact people of color.

For more than 25 years, I have worked in medical education at the boarder of two disciplines: education and social work. Early in my career, as I began teaching and learning how to support students, residents, and faculty, it was apparent that there was a disproportionate number of minority medical students and residents in academic difficulty. Medical education can be selective, and it is competitive, and the fear of failure, imposter syndrome and stigma due to under-achievement or failure, are very real. Although our students and residents are accustomed to academic success, many also reference feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem when they are referred for academic support, and they attribute these feelings to isolation and often times, to under-representation. I believe these attributes are barriers to well-being and success.

In conversations with current and former students, I have listened as feelings of sadness and anger are shared in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I stay in touch with many former students and residents and long after their goals are met, our connection remains solid. The trajectory of a physician’s academic experiences is personal, each one includes longstanding goals with narratives of perseverance and challenges. It’s fair to say I became a teacher for many reasons, but the connection to a diverse and growing community of people, whom I respect and collaborate with throughout my life, is perhaps among the most gratifying.

In a recent conversation with Iboro Umana, MD, PhD, a former student and trusted collaborator, I listened as he discussed feeling hurt and angry in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Dr. Umana is a 2nd Year resident in Internal Medicine, he is a minority doctor, and his medical education has included trying to reconcile his experiences being a black doctor in a climate of continued police brutality and racial violence. Dr. Umana said he had been surprised and upset that his department had not followed up in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death. He felt so strongly that his department had not responded that he created a presentation titled, “We’re here, but are you listening?” and presented it to more than 125 people in his hospital. The presentation is galvanizing change in Dr. Umana’s department.

As Dr. Umana and I talked, we agreed to take action together and used the community-building space at Fireside at Five to introduce more people to LAS’ series, “A Culture of Silence in Medical Education.” Dr. Umana’s presentation and discussion with current medical students and LAS medical coaches was Friday, June 5. It was viewed live by more than 230 people and since then, by 450 people. To view, click here: We’re here, but are you listening?

June 5, 2020, Photo by Iboro Umana, MD, PhD

LAS started the series on May 8 as a way of connecting with students, residents and faculty to build a safe community in which to have conversations that many feel are not open or accessible in medicine. The goal of these conversations is to develop actionable steps to remove barriers and obstacles to academic and professional success. The series “sold out” (it was free) and so began “A Culture of Silence in Medical Education”.

We know that being committed to upholding diversity and removing barriers to success in medical education is not enough and recognize that we must take action to effect change. Please join us!

Earlier this year Dr. Umana and I had presented with another former student, Alleda Mack, MD, PhD, at the national conference of the American Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). We collaborated with two former colleagues, William McDade, MD, PhD, current Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, at ACGME and Sunny Nakae, MSW, PhD, Associate Dean, Student Affairs, University of California, Riverside, School of Medicine, and new colleagues, Bonnie Mason, MD, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, ACGME, Edith Mitchel, MD, Professor and Associate Director, Diversity Services, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. The presentation motivated many more conversations and was the impetus for collaborating with Fireside at Five.  

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