SGIM Annual Meeting Focuses on Inclusivity

Heidi Splete

May 11, 2021

In her welcome video on the opening day at the annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, meeting chair Rita Lee, MD, said she hoped that this year's event, though virtual, will allow attendees an opportunity to "regroup, find inspiration, and celebrate the incredible strengths and diverse voices of our community."

"We are living in an incredibly polarized world," Lee said in an interview. "The conference theme of 'Transforming Values Into Action' is especially important at this time, as recent events, such as the death of George Floyd and many others, plus the disparities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought issues of structural racism and oppression in the United States to the forefront," she said in the interview.

"Given these circumstances, it is important now, more than ever, for generalists to move our values into action – to effect change at the health system, community, and policy levels – so our patients can achieve optimal health," Lee emphasized.

She noted that SGIM's vision: "A just system of care in which all people can achieve optimal health," underlies the meeting's sessions.

Some challenges related to adopting more antiracist training in medical education center on faculty development, Lee noted. "There are also students who don't feel that this is part of the role of being a physician. One way to overcome these challenges is by directly linking structural competency to health outcomes for our patients," she added. "We have evidence that structural racism impacts health and we should make that clear to our educational leaders and faculty to increase buy in. So many of our SGIM members are working on developing curricula for this."

Two of the meeting's workshops that addressed racism in medicine and medical education and strategies for change were "Demystifying Structural Competency – How to Develop Antiracist Training in Medical Education," and "Combating Systemic Racism in the Health Care System – Practical Actions You Can Take Today." Below are some details about these.

Medical Education Evolves to Include Structural Competency

In the workshop "Demystifying Structural Competency – How to Develop Antiracist Training in Medical Education," participants used interactive exercises to build structural differentials for patient cases. The workshop was based in part on the experiences of including structural competency in medical education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, and the University of Pittsburgh.

During the session, participants practiced building a structural differential diagnosis in small groups, and also practiced using a structurally competent version of the 1-minute preceptor to promote structural competency in learners.

"Structural competency represents a shift in medical education towards attention to forces that influence health outcomes at levels above individual clinical interactions and develop a provider's capacity to recognize and respond to health and illness as downstream effects of social, political and economic structures," presenter Iman Hassan, MD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, both in New York, said in an interview.

"At the same time, structural competency incorporates structural humility, which decentralizes the provider role in addressing structural factors and emphasizes collaboration with patients and communities," she said in the interview. "Structural competency is a useful antiracism framework because it explicitly engages learners with the broader structural forces that result in health disparities, including structural racism and its downstream effects," Hassan explained.

Addressing structural competency is important in medical education because structural and social determinants of health contribute more than half of overall health outcomes, said Hassan.

A structural competency framework equips learners to identify, discuss, and work with patients to navigate social needs such as lack of health insurance, food, or transportation, that are preventing them from accessing needed health care services, Hassan noted.

"Importantly, training in structural competency empowers physicians to be agents of change within their clinics, health systems, and communities and to recognize the value of community-led advocacy in promoting health equity," she said.

Structural competency training also "will also allow them to engage more fully with the body of literature that exists surrounding social determinants of health and health disparities, and the use of approaches such as critical race theory through which to view health care," she emphasized. "Importantly, understanding of the historical and structural context of medicine allows clinicians to more readily recognize when their own clinical practices, such as use of race-based clinical prediction tools, may perpetuate disparities, and work collectively to eliminate those practices."

Recalibrating Calculators for Clinical Care

Another workshop, "Combating Systemic Racism in the Health Care System – Practical Actions You Can Take Today," took on the challenge of inherent bias in clinical care caused by various factors, notably medical calculators such as those used to measure kidney function and pulmonary function.

Lamar K. Johnson, MD, of Christiana Care Hospital Partners/Christiana Care Pediatric Hospitalists in Newark, Del., and Celeste Newby, MD, of Tulane University, New Orleans, discussed the inherent biases in some calculators and how to take those biases into account. A stated goal of the workshop was to increase awareness of the origins of medical calculators in order to enhance equity and improve shared decision-making between patients and providers.

Addressing implicit bias in clinical practice is important because such bias has been shown to negatively affect physician behavior and clinical decision making, Johnson said in an interview.

"These effects can also negatively affect the doctor-patient relationship and lead to poorer health outcomes due to delays in or avoidance of care or avoidance of the health care system, and mistrust, resulting in nonadherence," Johnson noted.

"Implicit bias training helps empower medical students and residents to recognize and address bias and advocate for patients. Such training can potentially be beneficial to faculty, too," Johnson emphasized in the interview.

"Race is primarily a social, not a biological, construct, and we must be careful when we use it, as its use in the past has been largely inappropriate and not scientifically sound," he said.

During the session, one of the presenters said removing specific mentions of race from clinical documentation can reduce racial bias in clinical practice.

The presenters also highlighted the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) which is used to estimate kidney function.

The eGFR "reports higher eGFR values for Blacks based on a faulty hypothesis that Black people have higher muscle mass. This higher estimated value can delay referral for specialist care or transplantation, leading to worse outcomes," Johnson explained in the interview.

In response, "Many major institutions have eliminated the race modifier in eGFR, and a joint task force created by the National Kidney Foundation and American Society of Nephrology has recommended against using a race modifier as of March 2021," Johnson said.

The presenters had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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