Acad Med. 2020 Sep 1. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003702. Online ahead of print.
In 2018, in response to a news story featuring the Icahn School of Medicine's decision to eliminate its chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) due to perceived racial inequities, students at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSM) brought similar concerns to leadership. WUSM leadership evaluated whether students' race, ethnicity, or gender were associated with their receipt of honors in the six core clerkships, key determinants of AOA selection. In preliminary analysis of the school's data, statistically significant racial and ethnic disparities were associated with receipt of honors in each clerkship. Leaders shared these findings with the WUSM community along with a clear message that such discrepancies are unacceptable to the school. An effort to further analyze what lay behind the findings as well as to identify steps to resolve the problem was launched. Using a quality improvement framework, data from focus groups and student surveys were analyzed and two overarching themes emerged. Students perceived that both assessment and the learning environment impacted racial/ethnic disparities in clerkship grades. In multivariable logistic regression models, shelf exam scores (a part of student assessment) were found to be associated with receipt of honors in each clerkship; in some (but not all) clerkships, shelf exam scores attenuated the effect of race/ethnicity on receipt of honors, so that when the shelf scores were added to the model, the race/ethnicity effect was no longer significant. This case study describes WUSM's process to understand and address bias in clerkship grading and AOA nomination so that other medical schools might benefit from what has been learned.