Addressing Diversity in Medical Education: Listen to the Students

To fully employ the osteopathic approach when treating our patients, schools consider the knowledgeable voices of osteopathic medical students.

Osteopathic Philosophy and Diversity

Students choose osteopathic medicine because they feel a connection to the philosophy of treating patients holistically. We believe in Dr. Still’s vision and treat the mind, body, and spirit while considering the interrelationship between mind, body, and spirit. These tenets that help us define who we will be throughout our professional careers encourage us to consider all aspects of our patients’ lives while providing equitable care. However, despite the recent advancements and increased focus on diversity in osteopathic medical education, there are still areas for growth regarding the racial and ethnic differences that exist between medical students, faculty, and the populations we serve.

Enter Osteopathic Medical Students

Linda Ahaiwe is a second-year medical student at UNTHSC Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM). She came to America 20 years ago with her family from Nigeria. As the youngest of four children growing up in Houston, Texas, she was heavily influenced by her mother and siblings who have served as role models, both in their careers in medicine and their dedication to caring for others. 

Linda Ahaiwe, OMS-II
UNTHSC TCOM
President of TCOM SNMA

She began her work to empower others through her involvement in the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where she completed her undergraduate education. She found a calling to be an “encourager” for students from diverse backgrounds who were pursuing medicine.

The Solution is Closer Than We Think

Last year, Linda was part of a team of students who were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and acted at their medical school to create change. She co-authored her institution’s Coalition for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion proposal to promote diversity on her campus.

She is also the President of her local chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). While many of her plans for this position were limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, she says that she has learned adaptability: 

“It is harder to reach people, but we have to keep trying. This has been difficult for everyone. I feel like it has shown us that some people are fighting silent battles, and some are larger.”

Where Do Students Want to Start

While there have been efforts to increase diversity in osteopathic medical education, students, including Linda, agree that there is more to be done. 

When asked about action items that schools should continue to improve diversity, Linda states that the main issue to address is that there needs to be an increased focus on more representation of diverse peoples across all races and ethnicities with in student and faculty populations before change can occur: 

“When you see someone in a doctor’s office that looks like you, it is an instant comfort and some patients do not get to experience that often. This makes them discouraged to go.”

Another aspect of continuing to improve diversity  addresses the curriculum at osteopathic medical schools. Linda says that a key element in learning is overlooked when learning pathology. It is vital to students and their patients that images used in medical textbooks and instructional presentations include all skin tones. 

Finally, mentorship is an inexhaustible resource for students, so having a diverse faculty and administration will help to provide a relatable mentor they can trust.

Action Creates Change

Linda is not alone in her efforts. Students at osteopathic medical schools around the country have been working with administration to address diversity by advocating for the creation of diversity committees, expanded skin tones in medical pathology, and increased funding for minority-based scholarships.

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine heard the voices of students and faculty and have created a Council on Diversity and Equity that supports osteopathic schools in their efforts to grow. This support includes expanding opportunities for scholarships, highlighting stories from physicians and students, providing data and research sources, creating training modules, and advocating to key national political leaders.

When considering how to address these issues in your own life, Linda suggests that the best way to approach being an advocate yourself for increased diversity and inclusion is to be aware of your thoughts, speech, and actions: 

“Be cognizant of the experiences of other cultures. Learn about your patients and their background. Watch what you say and be aware. We should practice more empathy in conversations and ask about comfort levels.”

Black History Month and Healthcare

When asked about what Black History Month means to her, Linda stated that it shows us how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in educating students, relating to patients, and evolving osteopathic medicine; this can only occur through open-minded, honest discussions.

The actions that have begun across the country are a great start, but serious efforts must be in the forefront of the minds of all involved in healthcare. Continuing to focus on these actions to be a better person every day will help us all to fulfill the osteopathic philosophy that we took an oath to uphold. 

Learn more about how the folks at D.O. or Do Not are amplifying Black History Month on our podcast page and check back in for another blog article later this month.

-Authored by: Heather DeVille, OMS-III, UNTHSC TCOM

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