Select Page

Improving Diversity and Representation in Our Medical School Curriculum

Coming into medical school, we knew we wanted to make an impact in the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) community by following our passion for improving equity, representation and inclusion. One student group that particularly caught our attention was the Student Diversity Council (SDC), which works to ensure the medical school community promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and justice (DEIAJ). SDC also works closely with the administrators to amplify student voices in various medical school decisions.

Following a small group discussion in the medical student lounge (also known as the Slounge), we discovered our mutual interest in diversity promotion. We reached out to the leadership team of SDC hoping to find a way to make an impact, specifically how we might be able to help improve our M1 curriculum. We were shocked and thrilled by how receptive SDC was to our ideas and passion for improving DEIAJ in the curriculum and how they welcomed us with open arms. Every member of SDC comes to the group with their own personal motivations and ideas for initiatives, so we felt we had a lot of support and resources to help us enact our own project!

Our first project centered around patient presentations in the Scientific Trunk, the first year of pre-clinical studies at UMMS. Patient presentations are sessions where real patients tell their story and answer questions directly from students. While patient presentations during the Scientific Trunk served as opportunities to learn about the pathophysiology of disease, we found that students wanted to hear more about the impact of socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity on the patients’ health and journey through the health care system.

We worked alongside Hana Murphy, a fourth-year medical student, to conduct a survey to assess students’ thoughts about diversity in patient presentations. The overwhelming opinion from students was that they wanted to hear more from patients of diverse backgrounds, including representation of different race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, educational status and ages. We brought the results of the survey and ideas for strategies to improve patient presentations to the Scientific Trunk faculty. We discovered the Office of Patient Experience, a department within Michigan Medicine that integrates patient perspectives by sharing their stories with the goal of maintaining and strengthening a patient-centered culture of care.

Our idea was to incorporate videos of patient stories from the Office of Patient Experience website into the Scientific Trunk. As a team, we went through each video and designated which part of the curriculum each story would best supplement. This helped contextualize the pathophysiology of specific disease processes with real-life patient experiences with more varied backgrounds. With the help of Scientific Trunk faculty, we were able to begin to more officially integrate these resources into the M1 curriculum.

As we progressed through our M1 year and the M2 clinical year rapidly approached, we began to think about how we could continue to incorporate values of DEIAJ into our education. Hana shared an experience she had prior to her emergency medicine clerkship where Dr. Marcia Perry, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Department of Emergency Medicine, and Dr. Samantha Chao, PGY-4 in Emergency Medicine, discussed strategies to minimize bias in clinical notation. She thought that the messages from their talk could be incredibly valuable to students before they entered the clinical setting, and we agreed.

Dr. Chao presenting at the lunch event.

SDC hosted “The Power of Language in Clinical Documentation,” a lunch event to incoming M2s led by Drs. Perry and Chao. They led an interactive discussion about their experiences in the Emergency Department and their process of writing and presenting patient information while minimizing bias in their care teams. We looked at examples of notes with biased language and how it might influence providers’ perceptions of patients. They provided us with strategies to advocate for patients as medical students, acknowledging that we are in a position where we might not always feel empowered to correct a resident or attending. These strategies included changing progress notes to remove stigmatizing language and add person-centered phrasing. Other strategies included using the correct language during presentations on rounds, even when other providers might be using biased language.

In just two months of being clinical students, we are already able to put what we learned into practice. After inheriting a patient who had been through many medical services, his “one-liner,” the very first sentence anyone reads about them when looking through his medical chart, described the patient as a “drug abuser.” Changing the one-liner from “drug abuser” to “patient with a substance use disorder” was a small but tangible action toward reducing bias in the clinical space.

While clerkships take a lot of our time, our projects are still ongoing. As we traverse the clinical space, we are mindful of our current experiences and how they will inspire us to take action in the future. If you are reading this and are similarly passionate about DEIAJ work and want to have an impact, please consider working with or supporting the efforts of SDC!

Pride in Practice: Enhancing LGBTQIA+ Health Education at Michigan Medical School

LGBTQIA+ people face a number of challenges in everyday life, including many health disparities. On average, LGBTQIA+ persons have higher rates of many chronic diseases and poor physical and mental health compared to cisgender and/or straight people. In addition, micro and macro aggressions when seeing a doctor are all too common for LGBTQIA+ people, whether that be in the form of non-inclusive intake forms or insensitive history taking or physical exams by physicians. When we started medical school as new M1s, and as members of the LGBTQIA+ community ourselves, we were acutely aware of this fact and were resolved to learn more about these health disparities from our patients and our curriculum, as well as seek and create methods to combat them.

Hannah Glick (left) and Anuj Patel (right) are leading the effort to create the first ever LGBTQIA+ Health elective at the University of Michigan Medical School.

In our M1 year, both of us were immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to serve on the leadership team for OutMD, our LGBTQIA+ medical student group at the University of Michigan. OutMD provided us a community of like-minded, queer medical students who were passionate about LGBTQIA+ health. Through our gatherings and monthly lunch talks, OutMD allowed us to learn about a number of topics in LGBTQIA+ health, including transgender hormonal care, LGBTQIA+ health policy, and primary care.

 As medical students at the University of Michigan, we have a unique ability to incorporate our passions, like LGBTQIA+ health, into our education through curricular and extracurricular activities. However, while we were able to easily organize learning about these important topics extracurricularly, we felt that there was not nearly enough LGBTQIA+ health education embedded within our medical school curriculum.

 As part of a collaboration with Dr. Dustin Nowaskie at IU School of Medicine and OutCare Health, we conducted a research project on LGBTQIA+ health medical education where we learned that medical students may need as many as 35 hours of curricular education in order to ensure high levels of LGBTQIA+ cultural humility in patient care. Michigan medical students were receiving far fewer hours than this benchmark. Driven by this gap, we aimed to create a new LGBTQIA+ Health elective for our medical curriculum as our Capstone For Impact project: a unique part of our curriculum which encourages students to reflect on their interests and passions, and to determine a project which results in a positive impact upon health, health care, and/or health systems.

In the Branches (as third- and fourth-year students) we are allotted ample flexibility to schedule a variety of clinical and non-clinical electives for in-person and online formats. Knowing this, we set a goal to create a new two-week, fully online Introduction to LGBTQIA+ Health elective for students to participate in during their third and fourth years. While creation of our curriculum is just getting underway, we have already received tons of support! We are lucky to be surrounded by brilliant faculty like our Capstone Advisor, Dr. Julie Blaszczak who is a member of the Family Medicine Department and an expert in LGBTQIA+ Health. She has been instrumental in supporting us to get this project off the ground. With the timeline we have in place, we are hoping to start offering this course to students in the Branches by 2022.

Our hope is that this new course will offer our fellow medical students a broad, comprehensive introduction to LGBTQIA+ health care. We plan to include a number of modules in our course that will cover basic background, language, and definitions, relevant history and policy, health disparities, clinical skills, and specialty topics in the care of LGBTQIA+ patients with input from faculty in primary care, psychiatry, pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, urology, plastic surgery, ENT, and dermatology. We plan to incorporate a number of different learning media including graphics, recorded presentations from content experts, news and research articles, and other existing resources.

We are incredibly excited and grateful to have the time and the support to incorporate our passion for LGBTQIA+ health into the curriculum at UMMS. We feel that this elective will leave an important and lasting impact on the UMMS curriculum and is a critical step in creating a new generation of LGBTQIA+ sensitive and competent physicians. Happy Pride!!

Chief Concern Course (a.k.a. How to Reason Like a Doctor)

Imagine you are a 1st-year emergency medicine resident. Your attending is on call for the night shift you are working, and you are about to see your very first patient on your own. Before entering the room you read in the chart: 65 y/o cis-gendered woman presents with chief concern of chest pain that has been constant for 3 days.

You ask yourself, what could be going on? What should I prepare for before I see the patient? You quickly start to formulate your differential diagnosis, a list of possible diagnoses that could explain the patient’s chief concern and story.

An intimidating part of being a new medical student is figuring out how to come up with a differential diagnosis for the patient sitting in front of you. There are so many questions running through our minds as we learn more clinical skills and knowledge that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin with a patient presenting with shortness of breath, stomach pain, or chest pain. That is where the Chief Concern Course comes in!

We are put in small groups of about 20 students and one faculty member physician and are provided a brief blurb about a patient. Before class, we are asked to come up with about 5 diagnoses, just like a doctor does before they see the patient. At the beginning of our virtual session, we all throw out any diagnoses we have based on the minimal information we were given in our prompt. This list is usually huge! We learned pretty quickly that some common presenting symptoms, like chest or abdominal pain, can be due to a variety of different systems — cardiovascular, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, or neurological to name a few! So without a lot of information, we have to start with a wide list. As we learn more about the patient and continue through the encounter, this list narrows. We start with asking questions and taking a patient medical history, performing a physical exam, and finally requesting labs and imaging. At the end of each session, with our monster list of diagnoses in hand, we are put into breakout rooms of smaller groups of 3-4 students to work on our next steps.

Back in the emergency department, you have developed your initial differential diagnosis, including gastrointestinal causes like cholecystitis or gastroesophageal reflux, cardiac causes like myocardial infarction or pulmonary embolism, pulmonary causes like pneumothorax, and musculoskeletal concerns like costochondritis. Now you are ready to enter the room to see the patient. What questions will you ask? What do you want to know more about? What will help you narrow down your list of diagnoses?

What additional information should we gather from the patient’s history?

In class, imagining we are about to interview the patient, we are placed into our smaller breakout rooms for our first objective: develop a list of questions to further gather information about the patient. A critical part about being a first-year medical student is learning how to take a thorough patient history. Thankfully, throughout our Doctoring sessions (Learn more about our Doctoring course here), we have learned how to inquire about the basic patient history, which includes information about their present illness, past medical, surgical, family and social history, medications, allergies, and a detailed review of systems. While this seems like a lot at first, surprisingly the more you practice the more it becomes second nature! What Chief Concern allows us to discuss, as a group, some of the key questions we’d like to ask the patient first. Because our medical knowledge is limited, this can be really tricky to narrow down relevant questions! We have really enjoyed working together with our classmates to come up with our plan for asking the patient’s history, especially because everyone remembers different key points from lectures and has different prior experiences and knowledge they bring to the group. This makes for great discussions and always serves as a great reminder that while we may think we know the exact questions that are relevant, often there are questions that would investigate diagnoses we hadn’t even considered.

After our first small breakout groups, we come back together to now ask our faculty lead the history questions we just generated, and they provide us the answers as if they were the patient. This is where we really start to think critically about which of our diagnoses are moving up on our list and which ones we can move down as being less likely. Some groups do this in real time by using the virtual whiteboard to start prioritizing a list! Here is an example of the resulting prioritization from one of our collaborative sessions:

What parts of the physical exam are we most interested in obtaining?
Next, we get another opportunity to work with our breakout groups, but this time our goal is to discuss what we would be looking for in our physical exam of the patient. As we organize a list of what we’d prioritize in a physical, it helps to break it down into what pertinent positives and negatives we’d expect to find. For example, if we have a pneumothorax on our differential diagnosis for shortness of breath we would want to auscultate for absent breath sounds. If breath sounds are present that would be considered a pertinent negative for a pneumothorax.

When we return to the large group again, our faculty lead provides us with the full history and physical exam write-up. We now get to read through the most comprehensive information about our patient, and it is a great time to ask all our questions that we have about the presentation. Often, the patient case is not very clear cut or obvious, and there are multiple signs and symptoms that still fit with multiple diagnoses. This is where we now get to prepare our case (almost like a lawyer!) for what we think the top diagnoses are and what we plan to do about it, which is called the Assessment & Plan.

What imaging, labs, and/or interventions should we do to further diagnose or treat the patient?
In the emergency department or on an inpatient floor, as you are asking questions and gathering information, you will be mentally prioritizing the diagnoses, just as we did in class. In our experience in medical school, we are still honing our skills of balancing which diagnoses are most likely given the patient’s history with which diagnoses are life threatening and need to be managed urgently. This is where the assessment and plan comes into play!

The assessment is a list of just a few (about 3-5) diagnoses that are considered most important to focus on by the clinician, either because they are most likely or the most necessary to address. It includes a summary of the patient and important information discovered. Each of these diagnoses is listed with the factors that make them more likely and the factors that make them less likely. When we present our assessment to our attendings, they should be able to have a good idea of the patient’s story and key findings so far.

The plan is usually a bulleted list of interventions or diagnostic tools that creates a step-by-step guide for you or other providers to follow for the care of this patient. These tools are listed in order of what needs to be performed first and either grouped by specific symptom/problem or by organ system if the patient is in critical condition. These interventions could include things like IV fluids, medications, or even surgery. Diagnostic tools could be simple and quick like an EKG or complex and expensive like an MRI, depending on what is necessary.

After developing our assessment and plan, we come back to the large room and discuss our work as a group. It is a collaborative effort as we complement and critique each team’s work with input from both students and the faculty. It is a great opportunity to explore what it means to be a part of a healthcare team! After we each present, we are finally provided with the end to the clinical case. Our faculty runs through the results to any tests, labs, or imaging we ordered in our plans and unveils the final diagnosis. It is the end to a great full day of clinical reasoning, and we feel a little bit more prepared to reason through real patient stories in the coming years.

Put yourself back in the shoes of that first-year emergency medicine resident. Your history taking and physical exam has helped you discover the following:

History of Present Illness:
The patient’s chest pain is right-sided and radiates to her upper right shoulder and arm. She said it began 3 days ago after she ate a big helping of lasagna. She went to urgent care the next day and they gave her Pepcid AC, which didn’t help the pain at all. She then tried swallowing a baking soda mix, which also did not help the pain. She says it is really hard to get out of bed, because she can’t put weight on her right side. She denies any nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, or lower leg swelling.

Past Medical History:

  • Prediabetes x 4 years
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) x 10 years (has not had issues in years)
  • Eczema x 3 years

Family History:

  • Father: died @ age 65 of cirrhosis d/t previous alcohol use
  • Mother: died @ age 78 of Myocardial Infarction (MI, a.k.a. heart attack)
  • Older brother: died @ age 53 of venous thromboembolism (VTE)

Physical Exam/Vitals:

  • BP 132/82, HR 75, RR 15
  • No audible heart murmurs or irregularities
  • Normal lung sounds
  • Right upper quadrant (RUQ) tenderness to palpation
  • Physical exam otherwise unremarkable

As an early practice, take this information (clinical story, given possible diagnoses, and reasoning strategies) and think about which diagnoses you would include in your assessment and do some research to find out what your next steps might be for this patient. Try to develop your own assessment and plan! We hope to see you alongside us in medical school and in the clinic in coming years where you can refine these skills!