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You have to have empathy

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2021 Issue 167

Since the start of the pandemic, physical isolation has been a strategy to help slow the virus’ spread and save lives. The Black Lives Matter protests that reignited in the summer of 2020 after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers laid bare how unaware white people were to systemic racism in the country. In medicine, bias and stereotypes can change the quality of health care a patient receives. Four years ago, Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean and chief diversity officer and associate professor of internal medicine (general medicine), was recruited to the medical school to direct the newly formed Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. He coordinates efforts across many groups, including Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion (MORE), Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (CDISJ), and the Dean’s Advisory Council on LGBQTI+ Affairs (DAC), to support issues of diversity and inclusion on campus. Yale Medicine Magazine conducted a video interview with Latimore to discuss how Black Lives Matter protests have impacted the medical school community.

How have the protests affected dialogue between people of color and people of privilege in our community?

There’s been a lot more dialogue. People of color do not need to explain or prove they face racism every day. This has allowed conversations to start from a healthier place. The questions are more likely to be How is this impacting you? or What can I do? versus Prove that to me or I don't believe you. What has also been significantly different is that a much larger group of privileged people want to be part of the solution and not be quiet allies on the sideline. They are recognizing that the vast inequities relative to how Black and Brown people are treated in this country are real. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable option.

Is your office doing anything differently to keep this momentum going?

The interest from students, staff, and faculty in workshops and training around these issues has exponentially increased. We have doubled our efforts to try to meet this demand. We are offering more training—all of it is voluntary. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve led dozens of town halls, webinars, and workshops on topics ranging from implicit bias to microaggressions to crucial conversations about anti-racism. Some departments and sections have independently organized meetings just to provide space for people to share their experiences or listen in silence.

What changes are planned within the curriculum to help address racism?

We’ve hired Beverley Sheares, MD, MS, associate professor of pediatrics (pulmonology), to take a deep dive into our curriculum. Unfortunately, in medical education, we still act as if race is a biological and not a social construct. We confuse gender and sex quite often. And there are a lot of other identities that we act like don’t exist at all. So she will help modify the curriculum so it’s more reflective of reality. We’re hoping it will help students get rid of bias and increase the chances of giving high-quality health care to all patients moving forward.

How can everyone contribute to anti-racism efforts?

We can pause to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. After that, we can more easily see where our assumptions are coming from. I think we’ve already started to move forward by better understanding language around racism and what is truly being said. We need to have empathy. There are many reasons people are where they are and we’re all starting from different places. Some people may want to read about racism and better understand the issues. Others may benefit more by being a part of the dialogue. The journey will be different for each of us. What is most important is to never forget that where you are now does not in any way predict where you will end up. This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon with ups and downs. America has been this way for four centuries. We’re not fixing it in one year. Hopefully all of us will realize that we all benefit from an equitable and just society. We’re not there yet, obviously, but hopefully one day we will be.