Diversity Summit Explores Implicit Bias in Society and Healthcare Settings

Written by Whitney Levitz

On January 11th, the SGA Student Diversity Taskforce held its first event for the Inaugural Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The virtual summit was organized as a four-part series with each event covering a different topic over the course of a month. As diversity is a core value of RVU, this summit was created by the students to educate fellow classmates, as well as faculty and staff, about the importance of health equity.

Dr. Leslie Zorwick discusses how implicit bias plays out in medical contexts.

The first session, entitled “Implicit Bias with Dr. Leslie Zorwick,” was led by student leaders and Leslie Zorwick, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Hendrix College, while students, faculty, and staff attended and interacted during the event. Student moderators included Ilma Chowdhury, OMS II, Officer for Class of 2023, August Stuppy, OMS II, Research Lead for the Diversity Taskforce, and Emilie Mathura, OMS II, SGA Officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on the CO campus.

For the first hour Dr. Zorwick discussed understanding implicit bias, in particular what biases are, how we can come to recognize them, and how we can create countermeasures for them. Implicit bias, an unconscious or involuntary bias, creates blind spots that originate from the ways in which we are socialized in our culture and are often because of our privilege. We all bring some form of bias into daily interactions, but we can transform them into a more positive behavior.

In the second hour, Dr. Zorwick discussed how the events that occurred at the Capitol in early January can be understood through Social Psychology, including social norms, confirmation bias, self-justification, and relative deprivation. From there, she opened the floor, so to speak, and invited the participants to share their thoughts on the topic. A number of students and faculty voiced their feelings, retelling stories or experiences, and were simply able to speak in a free and safe environment.

Student moderator Emilia Mathura, OMS II, introduces guest speaker Dr. Leslie Zorwick.

Amongst those who shared their thoughts were Austin Anderson, OMS I, President of the Class of 2024 Council, who  said that “it’s so important…that all of us really take time to look and see what our biases are and realize that we’re taking an oath to promote health, to bring about healing in people…I think this has been a great way to remind all of us that we need to check ourselves and that we are to promote health and healing, and that by learning these things and going through these lessons and getting this exposure, it will help us all do that, to be better practitioners of health.”

Sharing that sentiment, and giving a lot of feedback and anecdotes, was Natalie Crump, PAS II. “In medicine, you are charged and take an oath to essentially treat everyone, no matter what age, race, gender, sexual identity, socioeconomic background, country of origin, language barrier. [All] of those things mean nothing because your sole purpose is to treat [your patient]. That being said…I would love to see more integration of that in our courses [at RVU]. I would love to see more opportunities for us to handle those biases.”

With America being such a melting pot, she explained, a holistic approach to healthcare is paramount. “You have to look not only at race with socioeconomic status – you’ll see a lot more of that in addition to race – but compounded because of race.”  One such thing to keep in mind, she stresses, is understanding when to use pronouns for those who are non-binary or for transgender patients. “Those are all just as important as making sure you’re caring for your African-American, Asian-American, and Mexican American patients.”

Dr. Clint Adams, President of RVU, Dr. David Forstein, Provost, and several students attend the virtual Summit.

At the end of the day, and despite the different “monikers” given to them, these patients are coming to their healthcare provider trying to find someone to be on their side and to listen.  “The first thing you should do [when walking into a patient encounter] is check yourself at the door. Yes, I saw what their chief complaint was [and] I heard what the nurses…told me their story was. But before any of that, let me just block it and see a patient…and instead of walking in with all this baggage, [I] try really hard to prioritize checking it at the door.”

Dr. Zorwick continually praised the students and all who shared, stating on numerous occasions what an amazing group and event this was, and how thankful she was to have participated. She suggested a number of books throughout the event, and offered her services to anyone who wanted more information or resources on anything covered.

Thank you to the SGA Student Diversity Taskforce and to Dr. Zorwick for an outstanding session. As Dr. Zorwick said, “don’t let your defensiveness prevent you from learning.”

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