Tag Archives: representation

Study highlights significance of representation in medical school: Why this research matters to reporters

Photo by the University of Nottingham via Flickr.

Throughout my reporting of the pandemic, I’ve made an explicit effort to interview many more women than men, especially women of color. I’ve done that because the popular perception of a “doctor” remains a white male, and I believe that one way I can contribute to changing that mindset is to be more inclusive about who I show doing a job.

That’s why a new research letter in JAMA Surgery on representation in medical school faculty caught my eye. In short, it found low diversity overall among surgery faculty and residents and revealed that having more underrepresented minorities among the faculty was correlated with more students from those groups. Neither of those findings is necessarily surprising, but they have two major implications for journalists reporting on a study that requires an expert source in surgery:

  • Reporters likely need to work a little harder to find more diverse sources when reporting on surgery research since senior faculty in that field isn’t particularly diverse.
  • You must find diverse sources because representation matters. If more faculty from underrepresented groups correlated with more students from those groups, it’s possible that including more diverse sources in your stories will make a difference in who reads your stories and what your readers take away from them. It will also allow you to present perspectives you might not have gotten if you had relied on too many sources who look alike.

Study methodology and key findings

Researchers used data from the American Association of Medical Colleges to assess the race, ethnicity, and sex of medical students and full-time surgical faculty members. (Note: Although the study states that it assessed the sex of faculty members, it seems more likely they were assessing gender, a common conflation that occurs in research.) One interesting aspect of this study is that investigators look specifically at “underrepresented” groups as opposed to “minority” groups. The difference is significant given that certain minority groups are overrepresented in medical subspecialties.

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