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Medical school sees more diversity after correcting for unconscious bias in admissions process

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The OSU College of Medicine is celebrating its centennial this year. Credit: Thomas Williams / Lantern photographer

The OSU College of Medicine is celebrating its centennial this year.
Credit: Lantern File Photo

Sometimes the key to stopping racism is knowing to even look for it in the first place.

Ohio State College of Medicine researchers learned members of its medical school admissions team display an unconscious racial bias, according to their study recently published in the journal Academic Medicine.

“We all have these biases we are not aware of. They are deep down in the unconscious,” said Dr. Quinn Capers IV, associate dean for admissions at the College of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Even though they’re unconscious, they can still affect your behavior.”

Capers said this study stems from the racial disparities he sees in health care.

“People of one race with the same exact disease as people of another race get treated differently by our healthcare system,” Capers said. “It’s usually African-Americans and Hispanics that usually get the worst treatment, overall.”

These healthcare disparities are, in part, caused by a specific type of unconscious racial bias called “white preference,” which is the automatic association of “a white face with good things, and a black face with bad things,” Capers said.

Capers and his team mandated that everyone on the College of Medicine admissions committee to take the implicit association test, which measures attitudes and beliefs that people might be unwilling or unable to report, according to the website for Project Implicit, a research group which administers the test.

“Excellence and diversity are aligned. That’s what we’re seeking to advance: inclusive excellence.” — Dr. Leon McDougle, chief diversity officer, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center

Capers and his team administered the test and discussed with the committee about their own unconscious racial preferences.

For example, someone might believe that women and men should be equally associated with sports. However, one’s inherent associations can show that one links men with sports more than women.

Following the test, given prior to the 2012-13 admissions cycle, the College of Medicine attained the most racially diverse class and the its highest average of Medical College Admission Test scores in the college’s history, Capers said.

Dr. Leon McDougle, chief diversity officer of OSU’s Wexner Medical Center and a study researcher, said the correlation between diversity and high test scores made sense.

“Excellence and diversity are aligned,” McDougle said. “That’s what we’re seeking to advance: inclusive excellence. With that, affirming the value and positive impact that diversity has on excellence and innovation.”

McDougle said the long-term impact of this study would involve an increase in diversity among the medical specialities, especially competitive residency and fellowships that focus on metrics. Both McDougle and Capers emphasized the benefit of diversity in medical education and the medical profession.

“People from diverse backgrounds are more likely to serve patients from diverse backgrounds, are more likely to have greater communication satisfaction with the population that they serve, and are also more likely to have a practice where diverse patients live,” McDougle said. “Those types of attributes are more readily determined when a candidate is evaluated holistically.”

Capers added that underrepresented minorities such as Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics, overall, tend to provide more charity care and designate more of their time to disadvantaged patients.

“If we want to be sure that everybody is being cared for, not just people with means, but people facing disadvantage, then we really want to have diversity in medicine,” he said.

Capers said he hopes this study will reach every level of academic medicine in order to reduce unconscious biases.

“The long term outcome of that will not only be more self-awareness among members on the admissions committee, but more diverse medical school classes, which means that we’ll be graduating doctors who are better prepared to care for a diverse America,” he said.

3 comments

  1. If a school wants to have a process where the admissions committee is not allowed to know the race, ethnicity, or sex of applicants, I think that would be great. But I bet you that this is the last thing that the Left wants, because it is all in favor of discrimination, so long as it is the politically correct kind.

  2. This is getting dumber and dumber. I do not believe for a moment that their is bias in the admissions process. It is the latest lie from the liberal left. The cannot prove evidence of bias,so they invent something called “unconscious” bias so that no evidence is necessary, and by their definition, if cannot be challenged. The medical school like the OSU hospital is extremely diverse, but the goal should not be diversity, the goal should be opportunity for all. Regarding this topic, the logical starting point would be to leave race, gender, ethnicity, and even names off of the applications that go to the admissions staff. However, this would be opposed by the left. It would take away their sole argument if the results did not fit their bias model.

    • Actually the bias training involves referring to such instances as American orchetras, which for sometime have been predominantly male. It was only after the introduction of the “blind audition” process that more women have the ability to take part. It was discovered regardless of their musical ability, women were often discriminated against and considered to be “less talented” when their gender was known compared to when the auditioner was behind a curtain, thus removing any chance for gender bias.

      It’s not invented, but rather observed.

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