Advocating for the transition of medicine away from race-based practices and toward a more race-conscious approach, Yale Medical School MD-PhD student Jessica Cerdeña GRD ’21, Yale Emergency Medicine physician Jennifer Tsai and Howard University PhD student Marie Plaisime recently co-authored an editorial for The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, this month about reforming medical education for future doctors.
The editorial characterizes the current practice of medicine as “race-based,” stating that physicians often infer that race has inherent biological significance, whereas in actuality race is merely a social construct. The authors say the future of medicine should move from this race-based approach to a “race-conscious” approach, with the end goal being a reduction in health inequities across racial lines. They advocated for emphasizing institutional inequities in healthcare during medical education, which they said would raise the cultural competency of future physicians.
“Race-based medicine uses and treats race as an essential biological variable that has utility in medical education and clinical practice,” Cerdeña said. “Race-conscious medicine understands that race is a social and power construct that changes for political utility over time, and that it is a poor proxy for human genetic variation. Instead, the more salient variable when it comes to differences in human groups that have been socially categorized in this way is the experience of racism and racialization … This idea that there are biological differences between racial groups comes from colonization. This is how white supremacy operates.”
The editorial was published in The Lancet after the prominent medical journal released a statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and its continuing commitment to advancing racial equality. This editorial was also published following a summer of racial unrest and protests around the country that advocated for putting an end to police brutality against Black Americans. The timing of the publication was significant to the authors.
“Certainly we were motivated by the very apparent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, among others,” Tsai said. “But also because this is a very long-standing problem that I think all three of us have been working on, thinking about and advocating against beforehand.”
The article presented a wide range of examples in which race heavily influences physicians’ medical assessment of patients, such as the Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease risk calculator equation. This online tool determines a given…