Third Interprofessional Education Day Focuses on Implicit Bias, Health Disparities

Posted in GUMC Stories

FEB. 5, 2016–For the first time since its inception in 2014, Interprofessional Education (IPE) Day attendees were asked to complete three modules of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a validated instrument that helps uncover individual biases or preferences for specific demographic populations.

The goal of IPE Day is to foster interprofessional learning and collaboration in the health professions. Students sat at tables of 10 with peers from a range of disciplines as well as a facilitator.

“I think there is little question that health care is extraordinarily complex and the ways in which we can deliver the very best health care is when providers understand each other’s roles and make a commitment to work together,” said Pat Cloonan, PhD, RN , interim dean, School of Nursing & Health Studies. “We believe that having students learn together prepares them really well to practice more effectively together.”

The agenda was built around implicit bias and health disparities, with a focus on examining perceptions and heightening awareness of personal bias toward colleagues in different health care professions. Students completed IAT modules on race, age and gender-science before attending the event.

The third annual IPE Day brought together GUMC students from across health care disciplines including third year students from the School of Medicine, nursing and health administration students from the School of Nursing & Health Studies as well as graduate social work students from Catholic University. About 350 students attended.

Support for the event was provided by a gift from Thomas R. McGee, Jr. (C’81) and his wife Jill McGee, through a fund to promote student engagement in health disparities and community-based work.

The event was led by Catherine Okuliar, MD , associate professor of medicine and Bernard Horak, PhD, FACHE, CPHQ , professor of health systems administration at NHS.

Implicit Bias

Christopher King, PhD, MHSc, FACHE , director and assistant professor in the health systems administration master’s program, facilitated the implicit bias workshop.

“The piece on implicit bias focuses on how our subconscious mind impacts how we work with each other and how we treat our patients,” said King, also a member of the IPE planning committee. “And recognizing that stark disparities continue to exist in specific demographics, coupled with an aging population with complex medical needs, success is contingent upon providers working in teams to meet the holistic needs of the patient.”

King explained that implicit bias is a natural phenomenon – driven by familiarity and explicit and implicit messages from society. He also pointed out that infants as young as three months old show preference for people who look like or have similar characteristics as their caretakers.

“The first step in dealing with implicit bias is to recognize that it exists,” said King.

After discussing their IAT results with their groups, many students expressed that recognition.

“I was surprised with one of the results that said I had a preference for European Americans,” said Christine Trinh (NHS’16). “This probably stems from a culture of white privilege. Just knowing that is important. Being in the sciences, often we stay away from these discussions, but I think it’s important for us to engage.”  

King encouraged students to combat their implicit biases by using “debasing techniques” such as exposing themselves to diverse people and experiences, increasing personal awareness of biases and cognitively intervening [pausing] before taking action.

Health Disparities

The IPE keynote speaker was Carlessia Hussein, RN, DrPH, former director of the Maryland Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. An expert on health disparities, Hussein talked at length about health challenges faced by various ethnic and socio-economic groups, and how important it is that health care workers be aware of those challenges.

“We need to pay attention to the fact that health is being affected by things that are not health related,” said Hussein. “The real change is going to come from those in the room today. By being here, you are committed to working in an interprofessional manner to effect change.”

The students were then presented with a case study highlighting an example of a person impacted by a myriad of health disparities, a low-income single mother struggling with diabetes. Each table then discussed how their professions could work together to help the patient.

Leigh Ann Renzulli
GUMC Communications