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Our Responsibility

May 31, 2020

To the YSM Community:

This week we have been confronted by the image of a white police officer holding his knee on the neck of a fellow human being, a Black man named George Floyd. The image invokes the most visceral of emotions, sickness, shock, anger, and for many in our community fear for themselves and for their loved ones. It follows on a series of disturbing events, including the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

As physicians, students who aspire to be physicians or physician associates, and staff engaged in patient care, education, and discovery, we hold our responsibility for human life above all else. Our oaths recognize that we are also members of the community. The Hippocratic oath includes the language, “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.” The Declaration of Geneva includes the language, “I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat …” How then do we respond?

First, we must acknowledge what we have seen and call out racism. Second, as private citizens we must exercise our right to vote and hold those entrusted with public safety accountable. Some may wish to exercise the right to peaceful assembly.

As physicians, students, and staff, we must examine our own biases that prevent us from delivering the best quality care to every individual. We must also speak up when we witness bias against members of our own school. To this end, I have asked Deputy Dean Darin Latimore, MD, to accelerate education on unconscious bias within Yale School of Medicine.

As a medical school we must take responsibility for our role in health care inequities. In recent months, we have seen the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 infection on African Americans and Hispanics in our community. Public health measures to “flatten the curve” have also disproportionately affected the economic security of these members of our community. Common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension have a disparate impact on these groups every day. We must and will increase our investment in health disparities research.

We must listen to our patients and our community to understand their needs. As scientists, we must apply rigorous hypothesis-testing to understand the etiology of health disparities. Over the last few months, I have had the privilege of meeting a group of community leaders who are working closely with investigators at Yale School of Medicine to guide research, the Cultural Ambassadors, leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church and the Junta for Progressive Action. The COVID-19 epidemic has afforded us the opportunity to strengthen the influence of this extraordinary group and I look forward to continuing these conversations.

Our response to the events of this week must begin at home.


Nancy J. Brown, MD
Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine
C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine