Future physicians need to be prepared to treat a patient population that is racially, socially, and economically diverse. For medical educators, part of preparing students to work in an increasingly diverse nation is to pay closer attention to events occurring in society and be nimble in responding to such events and discussing them with students, said David A. Acosta, MD, who joined the AAMC as chief diversity and inclusion officer earlier this year.
Previously, Acosta was senior associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of California (UC), Davis, School of Medicine and associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer for UC Davis Health System. Acosta said he is looking forward to leading the AAMC in its efforts to create a “strategic vision for the next generation of work in equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
One of the critical issues Acosta will continue to address is unconscious bias. A new AAMC publication shares best practices for institutions developing initiatives aimed at reducing unconscious bias.
Acosta said that unconscious bias training needs to be “applicable to the work people do every day” to be effective. For example, he has led trainings for biomedical researchers discussing how unconscious bias affects team science.
“As faculty, we need to be more expedient and vigilant about what is happening around us and be better prepared to discuss these issues with our students.”
David A. Acosta, MD
“Many of the research teams [at our medical schools and teaching hospitals] are composed of a diverse group of researchers that have joined together from many parts of the United States and across the globe. Although their research interests are similar, each person brings a unique and different perspective to the table, as well as different communication styles, approaches to problem solving, and ways to address conflict resolution,” Acosta said. “Understanding the assumptions and behaviors that are tied to our implicit biases allow teams to engage and embrace their differences and move toward solving complex problems more effectively and developing innovative solutions.”
Next generation of diversity work
The equity imperative calls for medical educators to “have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on [in society] and be nimble and flexible enough to have dialogue with our learners about events that impact the lives of our patients, their families, and their communities,” Acosta said.
At UC Davis, Acosta recalled that students wanted their faculty to discuss gun violence, police brutality, and racial bias following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray and how these issues would affect their role as future physicians.
“They wanted to talk about what they could do to combat structural racism and its effect on the delivery of health care,” he said. Although the faculty had good intentions in preparing a meaningful approach, the slow response delivered a different message to students, according to Acosta.
“As faculty, we need to be more expedient and vigilant about what is happening around us and be better prepared to discuss these issues with our students. If faculty feel they do not have the capacity or skillsets to talk about subjects like structural racism, institutional racism, and racial bias, then our institutions should provide the proper faculty development to meet students’ needs,” Acosta added.
Acosta and his team are interested in creating a research agenda that will begin to explore evidence-based outcomes research on diversity initiatives. He hopes to help medical schools and teaching hospitals develop user-friendly tools to address issues like culture and climate, diversity strategic planning, implicit bias, structural racism, restorative justice, and others.
“I believe that it’s a perfect time to take a deeper dive and begin evaluating and measuring the return of investment of our diversity and inclusion efforts, and validating what we do,” he said.