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News BMJ Investigation

Are medical schools turning a blind eye to racism?

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 12 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m420

Read all of the articles in our special issue on Racism in Medicine

  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. The BMJ
  1. zkmietowicz{at}

A BMJ investigation finds that medical schools are failing to monitor racial harassment and abuse of ethnic minority students. Zosia Kmietowicz reports

Medical schools in the UK are ill prepared to deal with the racism and racial harassment experienced by ethnic minority students, an investigation by The BMJ and BMA has found.

Only half of medical schools collect data on students’ complaints about racism and racial harassment, a freedom of information request has shown. (Of 40 medical schools in the UK, 32 responded to The BMJ’s request, of which 16 said they collected the data.) And since 2010 they’ve recorded just 11 complaints.

The number of complaints documented by UK universities in general is also low: last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that UK universities recorded 560 complaints of racial harassment over three and a half years, while 60 000 students said that they had made a complaint.1 Rebecca Hilsenrath, the commission’s chief executive, said the figures showed that some universities were “oblivious to the issue” of racism, and Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, described the results as “sad and shocking.”

It is against this background that the BMA has this week launched a charter for medical schools “to prevent and effectively deal with racial harassment” and guidance for students on tackling and preventing racial harassment.2

The issue of racism in medical schools is important because students from ethnic minority backgrounds make up 40% of medical undergraduates, nearly double the 22% in universities generally.3

And, perhaps more importantly, racial harassment is seen as a contributing factor to the gap in attainment seen between ethnic minority and white students and, later, doctors.4

In a foreword to the charter, Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council, says, “[Medical students from ethnic minority backgrounds] …

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