Medical students author a guide to help others understand how to refer to underrepresented identities

MD student white coat

The latest edition of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health Presenter’s Guide has been released on the Building Community homepage. The guide, which provides suggestions and examples of how to talk about underrepresented identities in medicine and public health, was written by five medical students in fall 2019. It has been revised by the school’s Medical Student Association Equity and Diversity Subcommittee and re-endorsed for the 2020-21 academic year.

The Presenter’s Guide project began when students noticed variability in how lecturers referred to people and populations from often-marginalized identities (including gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, physical ability/disability, and socioeconomic status). Due to the students’ own lived experiences, this struck a chord.

“[Each writer] identifies with either one or more of the marginalized groups discussed in the Presenter’s Guide, and so we took the spread of misinformation about our people, cultures, lifestyles, identities, etc. quite personally,” said fourth-year medical student Joaquin Villaruz.

“Eventually, we thought to develop this guide in the hopes of creating a streamlined, robust resource that could guide our lecturers to providing more socially and culturally competent content.”

During the summer of 2019, team members wrote sections and circulated drafts to one another for feedback and editing. Villaruz focused on disabilities and mental health topics due to prior experience in research on autism and in the area of behavioral therapy. The subject is also deeply personal: Villaruz has a sibling on the autism spectrum.

Additional authors of the original edition were Hailey Bussan, Tammy Hoang, Jose Bien “JB” Hernandez, and Shruti Rajan. The team collaborated with representatives from student organizations including Medical Students for Minority Concerns, PRIDE in Healthcare, Latino Medical Student Association, Student National Medical Association, and Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association. Once finalized, the document was endorsed by the Health Equity Activation Team, the UW SMPH Academic Planning Council, and the UW SMPH Building Community Steering Committee.

The authors emphasize that the goal of this effort is to advocate for their future patients. “This guide is ultimately intended to benefit patients of color who have historically experienced discrimination in the medical field; LGBTQ+ patients who constantly have to defend themselves in a world that refuses to validate them; disabled patients whose issues are too often minimized or overlooked by their able-bodied doctors; and patients who are turned away or cannot get access to adequate care because of their financial status,” said Villaruz.

– by Robyn M. Perrin, PhD