A campaign aimed to educate and spread awareness about microaggressions in the medical field launched at the Georgetown University School of Medicine this week.
The campaign will include 17 educational posters on microaggressions: brief, often-used phrases that are degrading either intentionally or unintentionally. The posters will be placed around the medical school and define microaggressions as well as propose a plan to deal with such interactions.
The campaign posters will encourage a “Take A.C.T.I.O.N” approach in response to encounters with microaggressions, inspired by an approach based on research on microaggression and diversity in college classroom.
The plan’s title refers to asking, carefully listening, telling others, considering the impact of one’s comment, owning your response, and looking to take subsequent steps when responding to a microaggressor.
Combating microaggressions helps debunk stereotypes that obscure the diversity that exists within the field of medicine, according to Director of Faculty Development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Linda Love, who has publicly endorsed the program.
“When our patients don’t recognize our women experts as ‘the doctor,’ it takes a reassuring voice, or two, to help educate patients about their valuable health care team,” Love wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Every day, we are called to elevate the conversation. Preparation and alertness are key.”
The initiative is developed by the School of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion but was inspired by the medical school’s student-based Council on Diversity Affairs, according to Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Susan Cheng.
“They wanted to both educate and engage our medical school community in dialogue around what microaggressions are, how these commonplace statements, jokes, or actions can occur at anytime and anywhere, and how best to respond to them,” Cheng wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The campaign comes as the medical school is preparing to launch its Bias Reduction Improvement coaching program. The program aims to educate faculty and staff who would be responsible for holding sensitivity awareness sessions in the medical school. The medical school is in the process of identifying coaches for the program and plans to have the program operational later this year.
Spreading awareness about how to handle microaggressions in the medical field and workplace is an important part of educating students beyond their traditional clinical training, Cheng wrote.
“We train students to be doctors, and that goes beyond anatomy and physiology,” Cheng wrote. “We want our future physicians to have the tools they need on campus and in the workplace to deal with challenging situations whether that be in the various hospitals/clinic settings over the course of their training, or later when they become care managers and physician leaders.”
The microaggressions campaign drew attention in January after several right-wing publications criticized the program as unnecessary, and rejected the concept of microaggressions. Georgetown’s microaggression campaign is meant to help students navigate situations where they feel uncomfortable so they can to handle these interactions in real life, Cheng wrote to The Hoya in response to these criticisms.
“Our goal is to give all our medical students a range of tools to choose from that they’ll need to address situations that they find uncomfortable or inappropriate,” Cheng said. “We want our students to be prepared with communication tools to effectively interact with and navigate these distressing situations and to practice responding in real time.”
Learning how to effectively communicate and interact with people of different backgrounds is a crucial skill for medical students to learn, Council on Diversity Affairs member Hamsini Rao (MED ’21) wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“In a rapidly changing world with our communities (and patients) flourishing with diversity, we as providers should learn to communicate effectively, and understand the impact and barriers microaggressions pose to that communication,” Rao wrote. “It’s important that medical students get involved in this process because we are the next generation of leaders.”
As the campaign develops, discussions regarding microaggressions will be incorporated into existing dialogue surrounding diversity in the medicine program, Cheng wrote.
“In the future, the Microaggressions in Medicine Campaign will be integrated into our diversity dialogues in medicine program where our medical students engage each other in conversations around issues of inclusion and diversity,” Cheng wrote.