May 5, 2021

Student-led project tackling integration of social justice content into medical education wins top prize from American Medical Women’s Association

School of Medicine students Sara Saymuah, Suma Alzouhayli, Ashleigh Peoples, Manvir Sandhu and Capricia Bell.

A project designed and led by medical students at the Wayne State University School of Medicine that tackles racism in medicine won a top award at the American Medical Women’s Association’s LEADS 2021 conference.

The poster presentation, “A Student-Led Intervention: Integrating Anti-Racist Social Justice Content Into Medical Education,” by School of Medicine students Suma Alzouhayli, Ashleigh Peoples, Capricia Bell, Sara Saymuah and Manvir Sandhu, won first place at the conference, held in March.

“With over 200 posters submitted in different categories, theirs stood out,” said AMWA Program Committee Chair and Augusta University/University of Georgia Professor of Medicine Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, M.D., FACP, FAMWA. “The American Medical Women’s Association has been advocates for gender parity in medicine and human rights since 1915. The project they presented is in line with our work, and their ability to make it happen speaks strongly to the support they have at the institutional level at Wayne State University School of Medicine.”

The poster presentation can be viewed here.

The presentation summarized the Racism in Medicine and Detroit Summit, held virtually Oct. 5, 2020, and Diversity Week, Oct 6-9, 2020, at the School of Medicine. The summit featured four female Black physician panelists and kicked off the week of daily special events. For Diversity Week, in support of collaboration, student organizations whose mission aligned with the event topic were invited to co-sponsor the session that day. Events included “Racism as a Form of Trauma,” presented by the Latino Medical Student Association; “Identities and Intersectionality,” presented by the National Arab American Medical Association NextGen and Islamic Medical Student Association; “Healthcare and Vulnerable Communities,” presented by the AMWA and the American Medical Association; and “Allyship, Advocate, Activist,” presented by LGBT+ People in Medicine.

Approximately 170 participants attended each day with a mix of formats, including webinars, panels and small-group discussions. During the week, 55% to 65% of respondents reported that the sessions were “very impactful” in understanding racial disparities in medicine, the consequences of microaggression, intersectionality and race as a construct.

“The original student task force is hoping to continue this annually. We want to expand our efforts and impact by allowing more students, student leaders, faculty and staff to get involved. We also plan to refine some of the segments based on the feedback we received,” said poster presenter Suma Alzouhayli, Class of 2023.

The student task force, and the winning poster authors, included Alzouhayli, an elected leader of the Institutional Justice and Inclusion External Senate Committee; fellow IJI elected leaders Manvir Sandhu, Class of 2023 and Ashleigh Peoples, Class of 2021; Executive Learning Communities Coordinator Sara Saymuah, Class of 2023; and Black Medical Association Co-President Capricia Bell, Class of 2023.

“Systemic racism and health disparities in marginalized communities has been a growing issue that many in the medical community have been slowly working to address. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement in early 2020 exacerbated health disparities and emphasized the role of racism and systemic discrimination in a marginalized community. As student leaders, we recognized the immediate need for content area that was not addressed in our current curriculum, including racism in medicine, and the effects of racism on underserved, underrepresented, urban communities like Detroit. The Learning Communities, Black Medical Association and IJI originally started planning separate events,” Alzouhayli said. “When we found out we had similar goals and passions to increase awareness and education about racism in medicine, activism in Detroit, the influence of racism in exacerbating health disparities and attitudes toward care in the Detroit community, we collaborated to make one big event with lasting impact. It was an extensive planning process that required us to establish the content and context, reach out to experts on these topics and plan an effective way to deliver this complex and sensitive information that would be receptive to our audience and empower them to be curious.”

During the week, more than 1,500 participants attended various Diversity Week events, including medical students from all four classes, faculty, staff, physicians from clinical affiliates and alumni.

“We truly believe our project and delivering this content in medical education is necessary on all accounts, especially now. The thought that our project can help students or administrators at other institutions plan similar events or incorporate similar content into their curriculum is one of the most honorable levels of impact, because this could impact medical education across the nation. I say that knowing that current research has shown challenges for institutions to incorporate racism, justice, diversity and inclusion content into medical education,” Alzouhayli said. “We are very grateful to be recognized for this type of work. In addition, we elevate that this is a win for the social justice advocates in medicine who have been doing the work prior to our project. This is a win for you too.”

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