Black female doctor

Diversity of skin tones in medical education

  • Education
  • Society

In 2021 RCSI became the first higher education institution in Ireland to publish a Race Equality Action Plan. As one of the country’s most internationally diverse universities, the plan reinforces our commitment to ensuring that the experience of our students, trainees and staff is defined by respect, equality and inclusion.

The plan commits the University to reviewing our healthcare curriculum to ensure greater representation of people of colour in our teaching materials.

A student engagement and partnership project called REPRESENT set out to educate students and educators about the importance of representing diverse patient populations in the medical curriculum, with the goal of better preparing RCSI students to treat the diverse patient populations that they are likely to encounter in their future medical practice.

Analysis of the level of representation of dermatological presentations on dark skin tones in the first two years of our Graduate Entry Medicine programme showed that only 2% of lecture slides included images of clinical presentations on dark skin tones when an image was also shown on white skin tones.

The project aimed to increase the representation of clinical presentations in BAME skin tones in the curricula, and to help diversify the clinical scenarios presented to students to more accurately reflect the diverse patient populations that students will be exposed to in clinical settings across the globe.

The project generated over 120 lecture slides to be directly incorporated into RCSI Graduate Entry Medicine lectures, increasing representation in lecture slides by up to 18%. A staff tutorial was developed to educate RCSI staff on the importance of increasing representation of clinical images in lectures, and how to address student questions pertaining to representation in a lecture setting.

The project has since received funding for expansion to other medical universities in Ireland including University College Cork and University of Limerick, as part of a Research in Medical Education (RIME) grant from INHED.

The REPRESENT project is just one example of many initiatives being undertaken at RCSI to diversify the student curriculum, which is a key priority of our institutional race equality action plan.

It highlights the benefits of student-staff partnership in driving curriculum change, and the data obtained from the project further highlights the importance of staff education and student feedback in driving curricular change in medical education.

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.