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Microaggressions Common, Can Be Life Altering

November 12, 2019
by Julie Parry

The Department of Internal Medicine’s October 31, 2019 Medical Grand Rounds, “Microaggressions: How Do They Impact the Academic Environment for Health Professional Students,” was presented by Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean, chief diversity officer, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and associate professor of medicine (general medicine); Dowin Boatright, MD, MBA, assistant professor (emergency medicine); and Rosana Gonzalez-Colaso, PharmD, MPH, assistant professor (general internal medicine).

Coined by Harvard University’s Chester M. Pierce in 1970, racial microaggressions are ‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group.’ Derald Wing Sue and colleagues created a taxonomy regarding microaggressions so that ‘one can realize that microaggressions are not all the same,’ explained Latimore.

“Many people when they hear the word micro, it says to them that it is something small. Not necessarily for the target,” said Latimore. “It can actually be life-altering. What micro means in this context is that it is an interpersonal interaction. So I as an individual am targeting either another individual or a small group. It has nothing to do with impact. Macroaggression is systemic, institutional. Our policies, our procedures, our values, that actually continue to minoritize, marginalize and stigmatize.”

Boatright presented results from a quantitative study conducted nationally by Latimore and team on microaggressions in medical school with a sample size of 832 students. The study sought to learn about wellness and medical school satisfaction.

“In our sample, the frequency of microaggressions was very common, with over half of the study participants saying they experienced one microaggression at least once a week,” said Boatright.

He shared the remaining data from the quantitative study and then handed the presentation over to Gonzalez-Colaso, who reviewed the data from the qualitative study, which sought to explore how microaggressions are experienced by underrepresented health profession students and how the impact learning, academic performance, and well-being.

Through the study, three themes were identified. Students felt devalued, their learning, performance and wellness was impacted, and offered suggestions for promoting inclusion.

Latimore then shared interventions and strategies for when a microaggression occurs. “With all these interventions, I want to caveat, that the first thing we need to think about is the target and making sure the target is ok,” said Latimore.

Latimore concluded by thanking the students that participated in their research. “They were in the most vulnerable position. They did this to try and make our institutions better, not only for themselves, but for others and the next generation, and for that, I salute them.”

To watch Medical Grand Rounds, review the Grand Rounds video. For more information on work at Latimore and team at Yale School of Medicine, visit Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Submitted by Julie Parry on November 12, 2019