UNC's New Medicine

Marina Ziemnick

What skills do you look for in a new doctor? Your answer probably depends in part on your medical needs. Are you looking for a pediatrician? If so, you’ll want a doctor who is experienced, knowledgeable, and good with kids. Do you have a condition that requires surgery? You’ll want a surgeon with years of operating room experience and a track record of success. If you’re facing a long-term medical issue, you’ll likely seek out a doctor who is readily accessible and committed to finding treatments that work for you. 

Regardless of the specifics, expertise and experience are undoubtedly at the top of your wishlist when choosing a new medical provider. When seasoned doctors retire, the hope is that they’ll be replaced by equally well-trained doctors who have risen through the ranks, prepared to handle difficult and complex medical situations. That’s why the integrity of our medical schools is so important—the health and well-being of American families depends on these educators. 

Unfortunately, medical schools have begun shifting their focus from ensuring medical expertise to enforcing ideological conformity. At the end of October, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) jointly released a 54-page guide titled “Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narratives and Concepts.” The guide opens with a “Land and Labor Acknowledgement” in which the AMA and AAMC deride themselves for being located on the “ancestral lands of indigenous tribes” (the AMA and AAMC are headquartered in Chicago and Washington, D.C., respectively) and shamefully confess that their “current state is built on the land and labor of others in ways that violated the fundamental principles of equity.” From there, the guide proceeds to endorse a whole host of “equity-focused alternatives” for commonly used terms, including swapping out “disadvantaged” for “historically and intentionally excluded,” “disparities” for “inequities,” and “fairness” for “social justice.” Isn’t it fun watching language change before our very eyes?

The “Advancing Health Equity” guide is more than empty talk: it reflects a dangerous trend in medical schools across the country. Last week, NAS Research Associate John Sailer zeroed in on the quiet DEI revolution happening at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine under the supervision of the “Task Force to Integrate Social Justice into the Curriculum,” which formed in June of 2020. The Task Force produced a report that included recommendations such as “requiring students to engage in political advocacy, integrating a list of social justice concepts into teaching, creating a mandatory social justice curriculum, and overhauling the school’s approach to assessment.” You can track the progress of each of the Task Force’s 42 recommendations in real-time on their webpage, but for now they are all listed simply as “On time.”  

Sailer highlights some of the more alarming recommendations in his article, such as the call for professors to ensure that “all lectures addressing known health disparities will attend to those disparities and WHY they exist,” that “each lecture should have a “structural context” section, in addition to basic science and clinical material,” and that they “explicitly include anti-racism content during lectures and small group discussions.” This ideological policing distracts professors from their primary goal—training the next generation of medical professionals to actually practice medicine. Sailer explains: 

With this requirement, the Task Force asks faculty to treat disputed questions as settled. Moreover, it requires them to speak with authority on issues beyond their expertise. Medical professors are not experts in “structural context.” Their training does not prepare them to explain “WHY” health disparities exist. Yet, doing so is now a part of their job.

The Task Force’s recommendations extend to students as well. It dictates that, by 2023, all students who pass through the UNC School of Medicine will be able to “deploy advocacy skills” in the so-called “health realms” of “restoring US leadership to reverse climate change,” “achieving radical reform of the US criminal justice system,” “ending hunger and homelessness in the US,” “ensuring every single person’s vote counts equally,” and other, equally (ir)relevant matters. Sailer aptly expresses both the distraction and the danger this blending of ideology and education poses: 

Ending hunger and homelessness is a laudable goal, but it has nothing to do with providing a strong medical education. Other goals—such as “achieving radical reform of the US criminal justice system”—clearly align with the priorities of the political left, a straightforward case of blending partisanship and education. Administrators who don’t see the danger in this are blind.

There are some social—and even political—issues that are relevant to the education of a medical professional. Doctors should know the relevant details of laws related to mandatory reporting of child abuse, for instance, or of the legal protections for domestic abuse victims. They should be adequately informed about how to handle medical cases that involve illicit drug use or other illegal activity. But even these important considerations should be secondary to the primary goal of medical education, which is training and equipping the next generation of doctors to care for their patients. To aggressively force a particular policy agenda, on which well-meaning people on all sides of the political spectrum disagree, into the classroom is to lose sight of this goal altogether. 

Don’t be caught off guard if your new doctor apologizes for appropriating Arabic numerals or refuses to provide medical care because you don’t support the Build Back Better Act. They did, in fact, attend medical school. They’re just practicing the medicine they’ve been taught.

Marina Ziemnick is a Communications Associate at the National Association of Scholars.

Image: Bbfd, Public Domain

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